Poem of the Week - 'Meeting a Fake West Indian at Yale (for Betty Neals)' by Monica Minott
Meeting a Fake West Indian at Yale
"And where are you from?" Jill the traveller from Greece
asked the newcomer. "I live in Brooklyn, but I am
really from the islands."
I looked up, having established my presence
as the one quintessential island girl.
For two days, there was Carribean unity.
And here she come, trying to shift my sunshine. Cho!
So many abandoned the Petit Piton of St. Lucia,
the slippery slopes of Dunns River Falls in Jamaica
the clang of pan in Trinidad; each an excuse to come home.
Yes, they wait till sunset suit them out.
If they do come, they cold as stone, light as ashes
with no shiver, no reggae left in their bones.
I let Betty talk her talk, I know her type.
They take Jesus off the cross when it suit them,
seh they are West Indians through and through
after quoting scripture, they sing the verse out of tune.
I asked Betty, "So when last you visit, chile?" It was then
she confessed, "Is one time I ever visit the islands, only
after Papa died. I went to find family, those he left behind.
for that is how Papa put it, before he shut his eyes."
Now you see my trial, though I want vex with Betty,
I can't; she trying to find a place to warm my frostbitten heart.
So I small up myself, and share the space,
especially after Betty said, "Is like a island spirit tek me."
And spirit tek is one sure test to know if you belong.
The tone of this poem initially seems defensive and wary but, as the twist comes at the end, eventually opens up to accept alternate points of view on identity. What I love about this poem is the subtle movements between dialects, making for a great focus on the Carribean identity of the poet. Features in Eight New Poets from the Carribean by Peekash Press, a joint imprint from Akashic Books and Peepal Tree Press. Other writers who appear in the collection include Danielle Jennings, Ruel Johnson, and Sassy Ross.