The Calling to the Poet

There is a group that meets monthly at the largest local bookstore on island.  The people who assemble come from all sorts of places with all sorts of accents and all sorts of ideas.  We share our writings and speak our truths in poetry.

In the last session there was talk around A Gathering of Old Men.  Quite the conversation starter, this little book of stories.  I had a friend recite the poem of Theophilus Brown and the power of this timbre married to the spirit of that poem brought to life the warrior of the old Obi man sent back to Africa on the ninth night.  From the performance came the discussion of ideas –  the purpose of our gifts, the power of words, the feelings of victims, the obedience to the powers that be, the pointlessness of rebellion, and revolutions of history.  The story of Salomé Ureña, the Dominican poet, was savoured.  An Ecuadorian shared her story of three poets from her hometown who were responsible for the removal of a brutal despot.  She quoted one of them saying “There is nothing harder than the softness of indifference.”   (Juan Montalvo) A Jamaican spoke of the stigma attached to the black cat and the themes of racism in societies of the Caribbean today.  A Barbadian distinguished the Jamaican story from the histories of the other islands.  A young man asked “How do you see revolution?” and an answer was given “Authenticity – each of us is responsible for our own story, to be it truthfully and boldly”.  Another answer was “Be the change you wish to see in your world.”

And it was decided.  For the month of July, to remember the American 4th and the purpose of the poet, the Floetry theme will be Revolution.

As my fellow floets turn to the task of writing, there is some inspiration to be found in what has already been written.  This is one of my new favourites.

The Age of Irresponsibility

I regret to announce to those who have missed the calls of the harbingers, the omens written in their day-to-day lives, and the signs in every newspaper in the known world – The Age of Irresponsibility is upon us.

Don’t get me wrong – there have been irresponsible people in every era of human existence.  They have been called by many labels – lazy, entitled, promiscuous, spoiled, dead-beat, and many other names that separate them from the norm of responsibility.  But in the subjective age in which we now live, we have been invited to consider and have heartily accepted and gone overboard with the consideration for the “other side”.  Psychology has pointed to reasons in nature and nurture that lead to characters developing along irresponsible lines.  Because we now have reasons we find ourselves excusing the behaviours.  And with the words “lazy”, “dead-beat”, “irresponsible” and “promiscuous” being classified under the headling “judgmental”, the responsible among us avoid calling it like it is.  What follows is that those with latent tendencies toward – yup I’m calling it – laziness and disrespect see the stigma removed and sign up to the growing list of the irresponsible at a rate of thousands per minute.

But what, I hear you wonder, is irresponsibility?  What does it mean?  What does it look like?

Bushy’s definition is that irresponsibility is a failure to fulfill one’s obligations and to keep one’s word.  It comes from a selfish, unnecessary and reckless disregard for the needs and the feelings of others.

I hate to draw a sexist example, but guys you make it so damn easy.  Ladies.  When was the last time a guy in your life said to you “I’ll be there at 8” and showed up at 8:30 without a phone call?  Or how about the last time a guy in your life said “I’ll be there at 8” and didn’t show up at all?  If you say nothing, isn’t it remarkable how your next conversation (and there are questions in my mind as to whether or not there SHOULD be a next conversation) goes without any apology for your lost 30 minutes or your ruined evening?  That, my love, is irresponsibility.

Let’s take another example.  We all have at least one ditzy woman in our lives who consistently does stupid things.  For example, sleep around.  Yes… I could have used a guy example here as well but some things are just TOO easy.  She lets herself intervene over and over and over as the rebound (“But he said he was over it!”) or she may have a tendency to go for the ones who are already quite married to someone else (“But his wife is SUCH a b****).  What refrain do you hear from her as a reason (**cough-EXCUSE-cough***) for her behaviour?  “But Busy you don’t understand.  I LOVE him!”, “I can’t help it if his wife is a bitter old woman”, and most common and bloody irritating “You can’t control who you fall in love with.”

Well I’ma call it.  That is BULLSHIT.

Everyone has choices to make every single day of our lives.  We choose what we eat.  We choose how much we exercise.  We choose when to go to the bathroom.  We choose whether or not to pick up the phone and cancel an appointment we cannot make.  We choose whether or not we spread our legs to this man or that.  We choose whether we will go out and find a job.  We choose whether or not we complete our studies.  We choose what behaviours and what people we expose ourselves to and what feelings we allow ourselves to dwell on.  We choose where we are every minute of every day.

If I were to make a practice of irresponsibility my world would fall apart.  My staff would suffer, my family would suffer, I would lose the roof over my head and be dependent on someone else for the food on my plate.  How is it that others escape this fate?  Have I signed up for that much more responsibility?  Is there something wrong with me?  Maybe I should try this out and see if life is easier that way.

This is the thinking that has led to irresponsibility being the new normal.

I worry for the next generation.  Irresponsibility doesn’t travel like an STD, passing on from mother to child and with exchange of body fluids.  This bad boy catches like the flu.

Have you been immunized?

Classic irresponsible statements:

“She told me she was ok with just sex.”  She’s a woman dumbass.  And you knew this.

“I can’t help it!”  Then who the hell can?

“You don’t understand!  Marriage is very complicated.”  I didn’t tell you to sign up for it.  But you did.  So deal.

“I fell asleep.”  Don’t wake up next time.

“Ohhh… you were waiting?”  Oh yeah… but never again.

“But his wife treats him so badly!”  I’m sure she knows why.

“She’s just a friend.”  Uh huh…

“You just want to control me.”  Actually no… I don’t trust you to control yourself.

“You just don’t understand what I’m going through.”  You mean what you’re PUTTING YOURSELF through?  No.  You’re right.  I do not understand.

And my favourite.  One line that, if said too many times for the same offense makes the hearer want to carve the words in stone and shove them down an irresponsible throat.

“I’m sorry.”

So am I, luv.  So am I.

The Caymanian Voice

In spite of popular belief, it doesn’t sound like this anymore, my dearest friends.

Isn’t it sweet?  Doesn’t it bring back beautiful memories?  But is this the sound of your thoughts?

Not if we are honest with ourselves.  The sweet wail of the fiddle and the gently drawled out words of the young days of our lady nation are good and gone.

This is more representative of the Caymanian today.

Now now now… don’t lie.  This is a safe place.  No need to be playin fool to ketch wise with me.  I speak your language and I hear your livid screams.  Don’t hide behind the “well bred colonized position of polite timidity“.  Not wit me bobo.  Not.  Today.  Bobo.

This is the tone of voice you save for the hammock in your Granny’s yard.  This is how you speak about your supervisor or your lecturer or that sonofabitch police officer that beat up your first cousin to your friends.  This is how you see the sale of land and the exploitation of immigrated and local people.

Now that you are revealed gorgeous, powerful and naked, what do you do?

Cayman Wildflowers

The rains have begun and we have had our first flood.  It’s funny – the only time the sun is not out in the Caribbean is when it is raining but that doesn’t make it less hot.  The humidity is sweltering and even more so when the clouds linger.  But when the sun does come out, it is with a vengeance.  Wildflowers pop their heads up in the most unlikely of places.  Some burst into flames in the sun, others cling to the hope of the shade.  These are some of the wildflowers in my neighbourhood.  They don’t scream out at the casual passerby.  But if you really stop to look, they reward you with casual lowland beauty.

The oft forgotten Grass Flower. Taken up really close you can see how pretty they are – little florets circling a purple thimble

Doesn’t she look like sunshine?

Lady’s Slipper, Cayman style.

The flowers are everywhere! Hidden among the grasses and climbing, like this one, through the trees

A swamp flower, only found in the salty lowlands

This flower, about the size of my hand, carpets the roadside along a vine.

In contrast, these little pinks are about a quarter the size of the fingernail on my little finger

The Spanish Needle – a useful plant harvested from the wild to feed rabbits and horses. We often forget it has a flower.

Much like the giant white, this purple flower runs through the grasses and pops up a splash of colour here and there.

We are not the only ones enjoying the flowers. This is some form of wild pea and you can see the similarity to the St. Elizabeth Gungo Pea flower.

This heaving vine doesn’t always begin wild. But it is hell to control once its roots hit soil.

There is one grass flower, hard and stiff, poking up among the grasses and hiding in view of the trees. Can you spot its brown spikes?

Flashback I: Truth and the Shell

It has been a hard day of grief and pain. This time he is heeding my request to please stay clear and allow me to do my growing and grieving alone. But oh does it hurt!

“What hurts?” I have asked myself. It is the sucking drain of the disappointment drawing back the wave of joy that flooded over me at the realization that “I have found someone who I can love for the rest of my life!” It is a pain that tells of the stripping bare of the garden that bloomed in my heart, watered by that wave of joy. New leaves and fresh blooms all viciously uprooted in their youth, torn from my bosom. Holes that once held clutching roots and ground that was not so long ago shaded by trees are now dry and cracked and gaping, assaulted by a burning sun of Truth.

Truth that reveals every weakness in blinding, sweltering brightness. Truth that cuts through the beautiful words and whispered dreams passed lips-to-ear by the seaside. Cuts through the mirage of lies and folly-happy belief. Truth that burns away chaff. Leaving grief. Grief that the leafy ferns and tender orchids were not real but a bedtime story that needed to be grown out of. Grief at the loss of the cool, damp earth and fragrance of jasmine under a bright full moon all lost to truth.

Even when you tried you lied. Your lies covered my days with painted colours, a full garden of imaginings. Now all swirled and sucked into the vortex of the drain. If only I had not believed. If only I had not allowed you, time and again, to deceive. Truth tugged at me, peaking through the sky-flung Poinciana branches and so I slipped to the side to a greater comfort, deeper in your fanciful creation each time. Until the midday of my heart came and truth, right over my head, burned the matrix away. I am the one. The one who has to see and now must live in TRUTH.

And now… in the glaring light of the Truth that destroys all lies, I sit on a real stump of a real old tree – solid, dry, dead wood with the reprieve of Certainty that comes in the presence of Truth and the sound of the sea. Julius keeps coming back to check on me, walking only so far with the girls before coming back.

The darkness I battled with threatens to return and my mouth calls out for numbing rum. Things of the past. Tears come at awkward times, tugging on my composure and pealing the edges of my theater mask, my warrior mask, my happy mask. No mask sticks to a slick pair of cheeks! I sit with myself, in myself, smothered under myself and vomit onto the page every bilious thought that steals my quiet. And I glance down and see a piece of something shiny and pink. Shining through tear-chafed eyes. A gift, simple and rugged. A full and pink conch shell! If I had not sat there with my tears I would not have seen it.

After seeing the shell I put my book down and stooped to get it. But it was stuck. I dug around it with my fingers clearing the sand away between the roots of the old dead stump. The points at the top of the old conch shell were buried in the dead roots, cured by salt and covered with sand and thoroughly stuck. Stuck so fast that no amount of wiggling made it give. And so I searched for a piece of stick and dug with the stick. My right hand had already gone raw by now and threatened to bleed. I lost track of time in my focus and dug furiously. Hand and stick, hand and stick, wiggle here, tug there, still no give.

And so I called to the girls down to beach to come and help me.

Thus the shell had become my only focus, a symbol of happiness. I dug in relentless pursuit of it, the dig itself a fierce determination not to give up my hope. A struggle that brought blood to my hands and tears to my eyes.

The girls didn’t hear me and I began to get frustrated. Why didn’t they pay attention? The sky was darkening and the fireball to the west had begun a low, dripping, over-ripe mango-sticky descent through the clouds. I called out again and they began to walk ever so slowly to me. It angered me that they weren’t there and didn’t care, that they couldn’t hear my calling out. Didn’t they know how important this was to me? Couldn’t they see me and my gestures and waves saying hurry?

And plain as day I got it. THE POINT. Like a dream that gives such aching clarity to a situation obscured by daylight wakenings I saw. This is the purpose of my pain.

To bring me to call on Him, the Most High. The One who can answer all my questions, cure all my ailments, and dig out all of my shells. And right there I looked up and said to him Father, the girls aren’t going to hear me. They aren’t here where I am right now. And they probably couldn’t help me anyway – I am stronger than they are. Please help me get this shell out.

And so I bent over again and began to dig. It wiggled more and I dug some more. I stepped on one side to turn it loose and dug some more. I took my hands and scooped under the shell with sand cutting into my raw flesh. By this time the girls had strolled over to me. One came and reached down to help as I straightened up.

It came loose in her hands. First try. No struggle – out it popped.

MADNESS

But it was my struggle. There was a reason.

Later at home I took that shell into my bath tub. There it will always stay pink and fresh with constant watering. It will also remind me at least twice a day, at my most naked and exposed moments, that my God is with me in every struggle and will be my armour when I feel exposed.

And so I prayed into my little book. Father, please put that gem and hide it in my heart like that shell. Stick it in there and never let it wiggle free I pray. Please remind me that You are never going to leave me and that You are so much better than anything else I could ever find. Help me remember to call to You first because You are always right here, right now, where I am. Help me remember that when my friends are far away, or when they are up close – it doesn’t matter! They don’t have Your power.

Please also use these struggles of mine, these battles I face, to strengthen the people around me. Help my struggle to allow them to find their own shell loose and ready for them to just pick it up. Take my writing and use it to Your honour and glory I pray.

Amen

It seems I knew once how to deal with pain.  I knew once how to reconnect to the core of me and commune from that core with the Source of all things good.  I am so blessed to be reminded of that knowledge today.

Just A Lil Rain

We’re a tough old flock, us islanders.  Raised on salt water and sea grapes, breadkind and fish, we are hard to beat.  Perhaps this is why we are the ones Hurricanes are sent to – the world hears about the East Coast getting by a little Cat 1 (a mere kitten) for months but a 100 square-mile island being swallowed by a monstrous Cat 4 (much closer to a tiger) gets a few minutes of news time.  And that’s ok.  Because we are ok.  And, God willing, we always will be.

Category 1 hurricanes find us battening down and then going to the beach.  The calm before the storm is usually the best beach day of the year and the beach is best enjoyed with mangoes in the sea, sweet sticky fruit met with salt.  Our damage is usually minimal due to our construction and preparation.  Informed by hundreds of years of experience we know our flood zones and our best defenses and are fortunate enough to be able to afford to employ our knowledge to our protection.  June 1 is a big trip to the supermarket to start stocking up for the season.  But when the storm has passed and we have had minimal damage, it is not uncommon to see adults and children alike bathing in the rain and riding wave runners and kayaks in the flooded streets.

Shipwrecks, pirates, battles and storms tattoo the tapestry of our history.  We have learned to laugh the laugh of the children of sailors.

Funny thing is this little weather event caught me as the only member of my immediate family on island.  This weekend my dad was in Cuba, my mom in Florida, and my brother in Jamaica.  And of all weekends, it had to be this one.  Funny enough, however, this little event affected us all.  My mom’s flight back was delayed and both my brother and my dad were fighting through the same rain on islands to the north and to the south of where I am.

I became vaguely conscious of the rain in the early hours of the morning.  It made sleep sweet and the Public Holiday (Discovery Day in Cayman) even more relaxing so I rolled over and snuggled deeper with a sleepy sigh of the blessed.  And then I woke up.

Kids Kayaking in the rain outside an old shopping center, torn apart by our last big hurricane. Today’s fun on the grounds of yesterday’s disaster.

My back yard was a lake.  There was no walking of dogs this morning.  The water would have near covered their little backs had we tried to step into the parking lot.  My neighbours didn’t move their cars all day but,  me being on the edge of the flood, I pulled out determined to get my day’s errands done.

Not too long into the day did I realize that this thing wasn’t going to stop.  Errands were rushed and plans abandoned and at some point after noon, and after hours and hours of falling sheets of rain, I joined up with my mad family, the ones who never heed a warning to stay inside unless it is called a C.U.R.F.E.W., and drove around the island in a four-wheel drive.

Have a look at how the day went.  Some of these are mine and some are borrowed.

Tubers pulled behind the white truck enjoy the wake left by passing cars.

A cow pen off the side of the main road at Breadfruit Walk with at least four feet of water stained red by the dirt

I had intended to go down this road but turned back after seeing the high water. Passing by later I saw a fellow traveller who missed the memo.

For more flood photos, visit the Cayman27 site.

Crab Season

I know… it sounds like a conflict to many.  The region I call home is thought to be in perpetual summer, always sunny and the sea always glassy smooth.  But there are seasons and they are very real.  You can set your calendar by Hurricane Season – a season the world is far more aware of since last year’s American East Coast fiasco that hit home a little closer to the seats of power than Katrina did.

But then there is Dry Season.  Deep into Dry Season we find ourselves in Tick Season.  Right before the rains come there is Orange Season.  And then the downpours herald Rainy Season.  And with Rainy Season comes Mosquito Season.  About two months into Rainy Season we have Mango Season.  And a little into Rainy Season we also have Crab Season when the crab holes have been flooded and the animals scuttle around roadsides with natives chasing them into buckets.

Some of my early childhood memories are of me joining the pack of kids roaming the neighbourhood with 5 gallon paint buckets with strips of wood across the top.  My family didn’t eat crab – as good Adventists back then we stuck to the food laws of Leviticus.  But that didn’t stop me from crawling under hedges and stick-fencing with crabs at the edge of swamps with the best of them.  Red shanks were never kept, seen as too small to eat and more of a nuisance than a delicacy.  But the big, round land crabs with their khaki shells and bad attitudes – those were the fellas we spent rainy season afternoons chasing.

Growing up I had a dog named Vicky.  She was Queen Victoria – funny how all our animals were named for historical leaders.  Napolean, Alfred the Great, Margaret Thatcher (she was a right little b***), and now, of course, my very own Julius Ceasar.  Vicky had a thing for crabs.  I remember her first crab season she got a little too close to a red shank and came running into the yard screaming with this red claw stuck to her leg!  I must have been around 4 at the time because I remember screaming “Mummy Mummy Mummy Vicky’s guts are hanging out of her leg!  Help her!  She’s gonna die!”

Alfi was good with them.  He would stalk a crab for hours, patiently waiting for it to make a move and simply follow it to the next location.  He was a big goofy golden retriever and if he were human he would have been Buddhist or something – a strong pacifist, with harm to any other animal on earth seen as a sin.  (Unless, of course, said animal was human or canine and decided it should get too close to myself or my brother.)  I remember Alfi watching the cat hurt a lizard, chasing the cat away, and then laying down next to the lizard, the size of one of his claws, as it died.  We couldn’t go swimming with Alfi around because he would lumber into the water splashing everywhere and haul us by our collars into shore and a safe depth – safe being 3 inches.  But Alfi loved to watch his crabs.

Thatcher was a crab killer as a pup.  She’d follow and destroy even though they were about half the size of her spicy little self.  In her later years she would simply watch them walk past her into the house, bored by them after 15 seasons.

But now, I’m afraid, my dogs have been urbanized.  We have moved out of my parents’ country home and into manicured lawns, complex rules, and twice daily walks on pavement rather than through bush.  I notice more and more how little like country dogs they now are – don’t like walking on grass, hate the rain, despise other dogs.  On our walk this morning this gorgeous land crab came right out in our path.  Julius turned his nose up in the air and walked right past.  Lola, seeing my surprise, gave him a little sniff and teased him for a few seconds.  Looking up at me to see if I was satisfied, she joined her brother and began to pull me home.

Big. Juicy. Crab. On the tidy sidewalk in our suburban neighbourhood