Althea Romeo Mark

Three Poems

Inside Out
 
Our world forced indoors, we wear our lives inside out.
Its stitches laid bare, we see the rough seams of routines.

Escape routes blocked by invisible wardens
who dangle their power in our faces,
we learn to navigate confined spaces.

Conversations are no longer fleeting.
We are not coming from or hurrying to work.
We are not too tired to speak.
There is no need for procrastination.
Time is more elastic.

We worry that the ugly within
will rear its head like a gargoyle.
Life inside out becomes
an overheated furnace
upon which we clamp a lid
to suppress fury, fiery word and fists.

But let’s dig deep within ourselves
to unearth the words and mediums
that define this time,
clear the mental wood shavings
hiding the carpenter,
unveil the writer, painter, seamstress,
sculptor, wood-carver…

Turn on the light within you.
There can be fortune in misfortune
when our lives are inside out.

 

 
Aunty (On Robben Island)
 
We have come by boat to Robben Island,*
climb onto waiting buses for a prison tour.
I have been surrounded on boat and bus
by an Indian family from Durban.

“Let aunty go first,” one of the Indian women says,
as the bus parks before the main prison gate.
The words, like a stinging lash, bruise my pride.

Aunties, in the Caribbean,
Africa, India, are older women,
who are shushed out of kitchens,
told to sit down, not lift a hand.

They sit on porches, verandas, watch life go by,
are served their meals and cups of tea.
Their active life is placed on a shelf
to gather dust for a decade or three.

Some aunties think this is heavenly.

But this “aunty” is not ready to let others do her living.
She may be “aunty” in appearance, but not “aunty” in mind.

At what age do we cross borders into the visible aunty realm?
Do we become “aunty” at sixty or seventy?

In Switzerland, where I live, aunty is a crown rarely worn.
It is a title of honor for which I am not ready.

This aunty is hanging onto her dancing shoes,
and her thinking cap until
her marathon in time reaches the finish line.

 

*Robben Island (Afrikaans: Robbeneiland) is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 kilometres (4.3 mi) west of the coast of BloubergstrandCape Town, South Africa. Political activist Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid and expansion of the franchise to all residents of the country.

 

 

Myths That Once Crushed Our Freedom

How did we withstand the power of Caribbean myths—?
La Diablesse, the beautiful devil-woman
luring us on a lonely road,
the Mami-Water calling from
the rivers’ edge, an atoll in the sea,
her charming song seducing unsuspecting men.

The Soucouyant, shedding her skin at night,
her flight seen in a ball of light,
before entering homes to suck victims’ blood.
Ligaroo, the shapeshifting man, with power over nature,
who takes on the shape of animals;
the Doen who snatches the souls of the unbaptized,
only a cross around your neck guarantees protection.

And passed on, too, were the tricks and trades
of capturing the minds and souls of reluctant lovers
with “sweat rice*” and charms homemade.

Invincible myths ruled with an iron fist
on every Caribbean island,
each island having their own take on the enemy,
each meting out their own interpretation
on how to live our lives in their shadows.

They gripped our imagination,
imprisoned us in fear, dictated our behavior,
curtailed our freedom after the sun went down.

The younger, the less you are untouched.
We may laugh at the old tales
but they are not completely dead.
Every now and then they taunt us.
But we fight the power they hold
push back lores that lurk
in moments of weakness,
in times of darkness.

 

*sweat rice – A ritually prepared meal of rice intended to trap (tie) a man in a romantic relationship. Women prepare the meal by cooking rice and squatting over the steaming pot allowing the mix of condensation and bodily juices to “sweat” into the rice.

 


Born in Antigua, West Indies, Althea Romeo-Mark is an educator and internationally published writer who grew up in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. She has lived and taught in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, USA, Liberia, England, UK, and Switzerland since 1991. She has published six collections of poems: The Nakedness of New, 2018 (USA), If Only the Dust Would Settle, UK, 2009, English-German, Beyond Dreams: The Ritual Dancer, Liberia 1989; Two Faces, Two Phases, Liberia 1984; Palaver, Downtown Poets Co-op, New York, 1978) and Shu-Shu Moko Jumbi: The Silent Dancing Spirit, Department of Pan-African Studies, Kent State University, 1974.


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