King David Cooks Ital in Port Antonio.
Sun softens asphalt to lava islands around potholed stone roads. We
climb zigzags cut silly into hillsides, by rain, goats, Tree roots and
barefoot hill dwellers. King David tells me a toad
For a man, slapped him with a cutlass, and for days croaked Outside his
house, Rasta come out and face me. But King David Says to answer that
call and wet his cutlass with another man's blood
Not his way, so he left that town for this other dungle. He divides His
attention between his mobile and me. Hails all in his neighborhood, A
deaf, mute woman, Ayah, blessings, me see you, peace to all.
He whistles at shacks to let them know he trespasses, lean-tos That
cling to rock shelves, waves of zinc roofs, hardboard walls With square
cutouts, propped open by staves, that serve for windows,
The whole contraption planted on a concrete base, if lucky, Or on four
concrete blocks. He plucks passing leaves that his fingers Worry into
pastes, ranging from conditioner for his covered locks,
To backache remedies, to blood cleansers, to a cure for chiggers. He
shows me his place, no electricity, no running water. No more Than a
single car crate, and a square lookout for green air.
I take in his worldly goods in a glance and back out the door. He
figures modest dollar amounts he needs to run a pipe and wire. I stand
by the entrance and wait for him to collect what things
He needs to give to a friend to take to a relative off the island. A
banana tree angles upright in the steep yard, another thin Guava tree,
laden with tightfisted green fruit like garlands,
Destined to soften and smell up the place and bring plenty bird Noise
and nosy children, and through lush vegetation, a glimpse Of the sea,
planed to perfection. All around stand a herd
Of similar shacks, variously sized, all uniformly poverty rinsed. The
colors run into each other; most mixed and matched. I wipe sweat from
the climb but more spouts for what I fear
More than cancer or robbery at gunpoint. I come from their batch, People
with nothing to their name, just like how I was reared: A love with
nothing to its name coursing the veins, a listening pulse.
The hill overlooks the sea of Port Antonio. Water with sky Soaked in it,
glistens as if to fulfill any and every impulse, Numberless coves shine
with jewels planted there to satisfy
All our cravings. But the precious light, brittle really, plays Tricks
on me, and shifts from one shape to another as I cling To my wish to
transform these choked hovels on display
Into safer houses, sturdy retreats, and homes fit for kings. It is a
crude wish for King David that I make as he ducks Into the open, cups in
hand, with wine he brewed from fruits
He says he picked here (he sweeps our surroundings with a tuck And lift
of his chin) and set months ago. I sip the spirits That sat for so long,
small bubbles percolate from black tea.
I nod as my tongue and nose register perfume and paraffin hits. He wants
to cook ital for me in my rented kitchen by the sea Where injured French
sailors rowed ashore to evade the Brits.
We clamber down the hill and he warns me, in our stop and go Progress,
to mind a spot erased by rain or blocked with undergrowth. I ask him
about his limp. He sliced his bare foot picking a mango,
Says he unwittingly stepped on a half-buried piece of rusty hoe. He
cleaned the gash and stemmed the blood with coco leaves And green banana
peel, heated, and applied in a poultice.
I moan about my sore heel earned as I hopped waves And dropped hard on a
flat stone in a sun-hurdling race With my two sons, from prone on sand
To a driven buoyancy, salted and cool, the next. He regrets The lack of
capital in the place; more tourists would foment Commerce in a parish
that's Jamaica's biggest secret!
He wields a knife with blind expertise and slices balanjay, Callaloo,
onions, cabbage, tofu, and keeps three pots Simmering and me running on
fumes in the kitchen as I DJ
All my classic reggae on my Mac. He chops and sings, nonstop, Raises pot
covers like cymbals, stirs, and puts them down Quiet as if changing his
mind about clashing them to the beat.
He offers me this land on a plate, its jewels, with a sound For every
mouthful and me wishing more mouths for us to feed. We give thanks. He
holds a pineapple upside down and peels
The entire thing and carves out the pocks without touching it, Leaving
flesh decorated with tracks he could add in his sleep. Seated and full,
he talks about the dreads that are hypocrites,
Who say, burn money, smoke white people, fire cocaine, but Indulge all
three when they think no one looks. Me love everyman, He says, but if
somebody nah love me, let him stay put
Over there and I man stay here, no problem. I give him what I can Afford
and he steps out into pitch and heads for his sliver of hill, With a
song and cut-foot dance he surrenders to night, thick as trees,
Stufed with insects adding to the score of tides. I hear him still,
Belly full, yet he keeps a hunger my charity cannot appease. To clean up
Little Colombia (Port Antonio's street moniker)
Whose shipwrecks under dark cover, weigh and parcel out cargo For high
streets, filling jails and graveyards. Police monitor But cannot stem
that tide and politician campaigns embargo.
If King David grasped the advising rain here, he would have left, Flown
off one of many promontories where the surf breaks With history: voices
lost at sea coming ashore over and over. Bereft
Of a resting place, they crawl up the beach with nothing at stake. They
do not even leave crab tracks. Some lodge between Stones where an ankle
caught the fear of leaving water for land,
Where bones turn ground only to become powder and flesh streams Off bone
through skin stretched more porous over time bands, His patch of cove
light and water mining diamonds and pearls,
His wingspan of fenced soil for him to sow and reap all things ital. If
man can make it in Jamaica him can make it anywhere in the world. He
says, do not under, but over stand, hell is low, so says hi or hail.
He stays because he believes in the light that falls free of history.
The fool fell for sunlight's stones harvested at sea, a
pirate's bounty. A pot of gold at the end of a strained rainbow, a
And no proof for any of it if you comb Jamaica's three counties.
Hills push up against each other in courtship and pull up long skirts
From the swing of the surf, but lean over to look and see what happens
Just over the floor-length hem of a cliff where birds ride unhurt By the
current of history. His natural curiosity keeps him lapping At the milk
offered by full moons, loving mountain air as much
As sea breeze, wanting both in one life and so stuck with compromise. He
cut off his locks once when a friend tricked him into eating meat. He
cried out of puzzlement about his next step in a life that promised
Nothing, with no time for tears, so when his eyes dried he greeted His
new conviction to regrow his hair and never uncover his head, Follow no
man, or movement, except the wise counsel of his soul.
He heard a voice inside him say he should be his own dread. He left that
town as well and feels Port Antonio was always his goal. And that is the
first step of madness--to believe you can defy the law
Of gravity and walk off a cliff, or understand surf speak, or brace
Against a mountain whose bulk harbors its separation from and draw
Toward sky and sea, or smoke to gain wisdom and grace,
Or answer the growl of your belly with drum song. No, say The silent
planes of tsetse flies, and the Morse lamps of fireflies That bring the
night sky to our grasp; no, only crickets chorus yes.
And that is enough for this ital dread even if his truth lies Flat as a
stone skipped on water for a glimpse of a prophet Walking there with
nothing but vapor for clothes and hair.
My daughter asks the King what he keeps under his bonnet. Is it an
ostrich egg or is it a cotton wool ball? He smiles at her, Utters a long
no to both and says what's under there is a mole.
He names my eldest Coconut Man because he jiggled Three coconuts from a
tree, held them at knifepoint and bored holes For three glasses of sweet
milk water. Stuck in the middle,
My younger son wants King David to name him too, so he bets On his
Jamaican accent and a typical phrase from our intrepid Guide: when rain
fall all man high and low must get wet.
We are near our time to leave the island and King David. We want to take
him with us to keep him near us, even if We know we cannot and must not
interfere with a destiny
Each of us must make, and everyone must find alone in life, With help as
needed but not help forced out of pity. Whatever King David wants from
us sorrow would be last
On his list, just as the meal he conjured for us he offered With his
hands and from his heart to break our fast From glut and deepen our
understanding of the sufferers.
He shows us his receipt to run water from the main, A down payment on
one-third of the pipe that he needs. From his license with his mug shot
I see his former name,
Messiah. From slavery, he says. Before my mother married, I chip in, her
maiden name was Messiah. What if We're related? King David throws
back his head, guffaws,
And slaps the table, we are all one family, he says, chuffed By the
notion. He got his honorific from a toddler who saw Him and christened
him King, and it stuck to his crown.
There is majesty in a housefly and in the dung at our feet But we choose
not to see it. In another life, his royal grounding, Like Rodney, leads
a country of loyal subjects in a lasting peace.
When I bathe in the sea I uncover my locks and float On my back
surrounded by a head of seaweed. Salt waves scrub scales off my skin,
On me like my grandmother who steadied Me beside a bucket and washed me
from head To toe all the time telling me to be still for her
Calabash dipped and poured over my finger dreads Back in the hills with
the call of the sea in my ear. I answer and turn over and sink and seem
In the belief that I can breathe in this salt world, That my bones sport
coral and I form part-reef down Under in some switch from being on top
of this swirl;
That I am a sea god, amphibian, and King of the land, Hence my flesh and
blood, my bone and marrow; That I can talk and the fish and coral
What I say, just as I can breathe when below Waves, outside their sound
while inside them. Let me tell you what the waves want me to know:
That a seascape shows the clock face of time, That our gods reside in a
tide's ebb and flow. And I am blessed all my days with this head
Knowing the alternatives face away from the sea And do not trust
anything about a wave's crest Folding over sand that strains water
as it cleaves.
Up in the hills I perch on a ledge above birds Riding the currents on
one sail. Other ridges Line up in the distance with the fixed look of
Of waves grazing before coming into the rigid Coral of a cove, where
they break rank and dissolve In a party of surf fit for a king, their
Like some orchestra warming up, unsolved To this day though we take the
waves in through porous Skin and move toward them without needing to
A baton, and those waves pass through our gills As we pass through them.
That is how I met my match When I bumped into my nemesis in the hills--
The cutlass man who wanted to decorate me In red stripes and drink from
my uncorked body, Or at least destroy I man before I man ready
To meet my maker, so I stand up to his ugly Notion of spending time--my
stick against his cutlass. I figure if he swing at me I go stick out my
And collect his swing and maybe his cutlass gon Stick in my stick and
end this stupid thing between us But not before I land a good
vegan-powered cuff pon
The fool and send him staggering off seeing stars, Back to his
Rasta-baiting and man-hating bat cave Safely back behind his homemade
But what happen is this: he say, Rasta, no god can save Your vegetarian
ass from my cutlass today, so start To pray, and I fall on my knees and
clasp my hands as if
To obey and he relax his grip on his blade and I part My shirt and pull
out my righteous cooking knife That I keep razor sharp for cooking ital
and he run,
He bray like a donkey and take off powered by defeat Or that quality of
the bully who is a nasty son of a gun Until he face opposition then he
cower like a toilet seat.
The deaf mute lady of Port Antonio ululates at the top Of her voice,
toilet paper rolls strung up to her elbows, She indicates her mouth, she
needs to put food in her pot.
Her arms rolled up in the soft cast are marshmallows. She speaks to us,
and King David translates what she says. If we buy from her we will be
blessed, it will bring us luck.
She sounds like a cross between a donkey when it brays And the pumped
vacuum brakes of an eighteen-wheeler truck. For someone who has never
heard her own voice or any sound
She stands out in a market that cannot stand outliers. We buy what we do
not need, three parts of the cast around Her left arm, not to buy would
make her out to be a liar.
She tells a parting joke, King David says she sang, I'm a living
Woman and I got a lot of work to do. Says she didn't have the
luxury To loaf about all day like white people. Once again it is a given
That I am white in a land where I should fit in. I left a country Where
I am black and told to go back where I come from. In truth both
bloodlines run in my veins, both united in me.
She leaves with a smile and resumes her ghostly call for more Customers
to cure her manmade condition, her arm-ache. We give away the rolls and
stay on the balcony that is shaded,
Across the street from the police station, in a four-hour lime For my
daughter to get her hair beaded and braided. The high street keeps us
entertained better than a film:
Colorful people and cars unfit for roads on roads unfit for cars. Dogs,
looking the worst for wear, share bins with the homeless. The heavily
armed police shine in uniforms and dark glasses.
I see my reflection in them. I shiver and cross my chest. For the bad
luck of a black eat that crossed in front of me, For the dirt poor who
must surely have their day in court!
Today, the trees talk to me. Or breeze takes the shape of trees. The
waves of a forest are really the wind showing us its hurt. And that rain
from wind and leaves is the poor's only parliament.
And it is here that the homeless and powerless get a fair trial From a
jury of peers and a presiding judge who exist in segments In each of us
rather than the lone alpha wolf howling on the hill.
Keep the soueouyant at bay with rice bowls all over the house. Spill a
little from that just-opened rum bottle to placate the ancestors. Bury
navel string under the stairs so our stray child finds us.
Cutlass man. Remember Kind David, but do not let his lesson fester In
you. Swap your weapon for his counsel of rhyme and reason. Take up the
chisel and curl wood shapes to make our primate
Cousins proud, for we have come a long way to end up seasoned Much the
same as before, but surrounded by technological states And the same
spinal column laced with nerves, and a chromosome
For right and another for what is wrong as different as night and day,
And the same song in the throat of the deaf and dumb woman Of portie,
porto, Port Antonio, with her call that will not go away.
Each leaf, flower, bark and vine cures an ailment. All roots fetch
Remedies from soil to smooth our journey in this robber's era. From
I open my eyes I see glory days more than our mischief
And I give thanks for my part in all life in and out my area. I am worth
more than I think, in a life worth less than a germ. I am lucky not to
be absent from my mind like a baldhead.
All life flicks with a purpose and I mean to serve my term As befits
flesh that must toil for the kingdom of the righteous dead. I cover my
locks because I am an uprooted tree, roots up high,
Feeding on air as much as feeding air, and I walk as the stream Of trees
dictates, pollen brings back news of places that ships fly Over the
horizon to find, and I close my eyes at night with this dream:
Jah guides me through rough tides, and I swing thing and walk tall. I
bow down for no man. I want nothing besides this lean-to on a hill, This
taste of island air. I may look as if I perch and I man about to fall
But I stand strong with the poor--the world's most crowded
windowsill. I hold firm to the truth that since creation brethren read
the scripture Of the sea, pages turned by tides, waves stacked in a
Whose spines are middle passage bones. The wind plaits ligatures From
the waves because the sea wants to be Rasta and Irie. The forest smokes
after a downpour, leaves rolled in a giant Rizla.
Evidence for what I am grows everywhere and I will always be heard. I
man godly, and the God of man is the Most High, Jah Rasta. Upstairs, the
deep turns charcoal. Insects shut down market. Birds
Tuck in wings for the night. Nails spill from a bucket, but it Upturns
and those nails hammer the galvanize, for a whole minute Flat no room
for any other thought. We just sit in that silence, and wait
In its haze, for the nails to drift off and leave behind these minute
Holes in pitched tarpaulin, whose faraway poles spin the brain's
compass, So that what's up spirals down to that tree with dreads,
Ready for anything, King David, roots covered, his feet trespass
Nowhere, free to ride sea breeze and mountain air, free in his DNA. We
hug and promise to keep in touch and I say I will tell everyone
Who comes to the island to look for him for the time of their lives.
Blessings, he says, and we part. It tugs at me to leave him, so very
alone In his mercy, his bounty, and me, underdeveloped, ostensibly