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Travels with a daughter.

Somewhere, 2009
(For my mother and Pat's daughter)

   I woke up with the need
   to call
   Thought I would just dial your number
   (long since disconnected, I know)
   and say happy birthday
   into the void
   or in chorus
   with the mechanical woman
   exhorting me
   to check the number
   and dial again later

   The voice is not
   without sympathy
   A familiar accent
   chiding me gently
   don't be afraid
   to try again

   Or is it that everything
   sounds softer
   faintly musical
   almost comical
   in an island voice?

   I hung up and filled out the birthday card
   The one I bought before the end
   and never got a chance to send

   I licked a stamp
   stuck it on
   and added the sticker
   via air mail
   thinking of all the words we exchanged that way
   because you never reached the computer age
   and I was always worlds away

   In the blinding sun and sticky heat
   I walked ten minutes to the white mailbox
   (Post before 5 pm, next day delivery guaranteed--except
   it always took six weeks).

   The card will be returned to me in the new year
   I know
   Moved. No forwarding address.

   Try again later.

Jamaica 2006

   You wanted to come with me
   to say goodbye
   to the grandmother
   you knew as a voice

   She loved you through
   her songs on the phone
   Down the Way
   where her nights were anything but gay

   You could sing all the lyrics
   although you'd been
   to the island only once
   when you were two

   Please, can I come with you
   Thirteen hours to Germany
   Eight hours from there to New York
   Then another four

   Just to see your mother
   weep in planes and airports
   and to watch a suddenly aged aunt
   taking photographs of someone

   No longer there

   Yes, I wanted you with me
   but could not say yes
   to this brightly illuminated
   circus of pain, anger and regret

   Afterwards, though, we would smile
   you and me
   thinking of the song
   you last sang to her

   When Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney
   She told everyone about it
   Just listen to this one, no
   my granddaughter sing it to me

   When Santa Got Stuck in the Chimney
   Christmas then was
   still in your head
   and we were sure she'd be around

   for the next one
   and many more songs

Paris then & now

   Is she your daughter?

   They used to ask my mother
   The way they now ask me
   People too ignorant
   To think before
   They speak

   We enter the art gallery
   You and me
   Elle est si mignonne
   The woman there says
   Smiling artificially

   Ah oui? Merci

   And then inevitably
   Comes le question

   Is she your daughter?

   They have no clue
   What this must be doing to you
   As it did to me

   When I watched my mother's puzzled face
   Turning slowly to rage

   An anger that seeped out
   And infected me
   Making me sit for hours
   In the sun

   Turning deep-brown
   So I could stop hearing fools
   Run their mouths

   Is she your daughter?

Tokyo 2005

   you said
   to cabdrivers
   and the lady who gave you a fan

   The summer heat
   drenched me in misery
   as I banged my head
   against the implacable wall
   of language and smiles
   so coolly polite

   But you quickly learned
   that a well-placed arigato
   could cause the bricks to tumble
   softly and silently down
   like cherry--yes--cherry blossoms

Siem Reap, Cambodia 2004

   Mommy, look, that man
   Has only one leg
   You stare, fascinated
   Why does he have only one leg
   Your voice is clear
   Cutting through the chatter
   Of the tourist throngs
   Gazing in wonder
   At trees growing through stone

   Not so loud, I scold you
   But the man sitting on the ground
   With the carved peg beside him
   And his flute across his lap
   Smiles at me, at you
   He whispers something
   To his two companions
   Who also have musical instruments
   And limbs missing

   They play
   And as the melody wafts out
   You begin singing along in sudden delight
   Old Macdonald had a farm

Myanmar (Burma) 2002

   Black Mercedes limos
   With tinted glass
   Emerge from the night
   Like a line of hearses
   Waved to their positions
   By white-gloved
   Their faces
   Carved from teak

   The cars
   Discharge their riders
   Heavy men
   Broad of shoulder
   And large of belly

   Each step they take
   Echoes their power
   Despite the incongruous
   Little leather thongs
   On their feet
          toenails immaculately clipped
          of course

   I watch this procession
   Of generals
   With unease
   Unable to completely quell
   The flutterings of fear

   But you, oblivious still
   Cry out in the night
   "bye bye"
   And several of these mighty men
   Turn their heads to stare at you
   Hard mouths ready to bark
   An order

   But disarmed by your little-girl giggle
   One by one
   They somehow manage
   To crack
   A smile

Jamaica 2002

   The mango juice
   slid down your chin
   onto your powder-blue dress

   you bit into the flesh
   of the fruit you held so tightly
   your face a portrait
   of childish delight

   and when more nectar
   rolled down your arm
   drawing an orange line
   from wrist to elbow

   your tongue
   swept a clean path
   just the way mine used to
   from elbow to wrist

   your grandmother--
   older, smaller than the last time I saw her--
   laughed at you and shook her head
   "Mi pickney come home," she said.
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Article Details
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Author:McKenzie, Alecia
Publication:Journal of Caribbean Literatures
Article Type:Poem
Date:Mar 22, 2013
Previous Article:"Good Lord ... he looked to her like a soukougnan": the warring aspects of Vodou and Christianity in Maryse Conde's Windward Heights.
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