Charlotte Hammond

A Sea of Salvaged Materials: Ayiti Pèpè

Eleksyon pèpè

Enstitisyon pèpè

Espwa pèpè

Kandida pèpè

Kochon pèpè

Konsyans pèpè

Lajan pèpè

Jandam pèpè

Lapolis pèpè

Legliz pèpè

Lekòl pèpè

Leta pèpè

Desizyon pèpè

Lide timoun pèpè

Manje pèpè

Misyonè pèpè

ONG pèpè

Pati politik pèpè

Plan devlopman pèpè

Premye minis pèpè

Prezidan pèpè

Pwodui pèpè

Pwojè devlopman pèpè

Rad pèpè

Rèv moun pèpè

Soulye pèpè

Tout bagay pèpè…


Ayiti ap viv nan pèpèrizasyon!

Kilè l va depèpèrize?

Emmanuel W. Vedrine

‘Ayiti pèpèrize’

Collection Kri pou liberasyon, 2005

In 2017, as a visiting scholar at l’Université Francophone de Cap-Haïtien, I gave a research paper on Haiti’s secondhand clothing and garment assembly industries in Haitian Kreyòl. In my critique of the secondhand clothing system in Haiti, I cited the poem ‘Ayiti pèpèrize’ by the Haitian American writer and scholar Emmanuel W. Vedrine. Pèpè is the Kreyòl term for used clothing in Haiti that has been arriving in tightly-bound bales from the United States since the 1960s, under President John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress Latin American assistance programme (Shell 2006, 154). As I recited Vedrine’s critique of Haiti’s increased dependency on foreign ‘hand-me-downs’ and external interventions to the detriment of local industry and entrepreneurship, audience members began to accompany me in my reading, prompting a call and response participatory performance. Vedrine’s accusations were all too familiar to a Haitian people, who since defeating Napoleon’s troops to gain independence from France in 1804, have been forced to pay for their ‘exceptional’ freedom. The French colony of Saint-Domingue boasted the most prosperous sugar plantation economy of the New World in the eighteenth century. When France finally recognized Haitian independence in 1825, they burdened the fledgling Black republic with a crippling indemnity payment (of 150 million francs) to cover losses incurred by plantation owners. Fearing the spread of Haitian revolt amongst slaves throughout its southern states, the US imposed a trade embargo which shunned and isolated the new nation, preventing its participation in international commerce. The US only recognized Haitian independence in 1862. This global ostracization and exclusion of Haiti has persisted to the present day, a legacy not only of the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath, but also of US imperialism (solidified most notably during the US occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934) and postcolonial authoritarian regimes that have mimicked the racialised colonial ideologies of the oppressor.

In the wake of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010, killing over 200 000 people and leaving more than 1.5 million people homeless, a ‘humanitarian occupation’ of Haiti (Schuller 2016, 228) has resurfaced, prompting Haiti’s recent nickname as the ‘republic of NGOs’. The aftershocks of the earthquake, the collective trauma and destruction, provided what Naomi Klein (2007) has conceived, in her writing on Hurricane Katrina, as a blank slate, a tabula rasa, onto which a nexus of international donors (NGOs, US policymakers, the Inter-American Development Bank [IDB]) could impose their plans to expand low-wage textile and garment production sites under the pretext of ‘development’ (Shamsie 2014, 82). If, for Paul Gilroy, plantation slavery was ‘capitalism with its clothes off’ (1993, 15), the economic success of which was based on commodity production for export, Haiti continues to be viewed an atelier of external capitalist development today. Since Haiti’s inception as an independent post-slavery state in the nineteenth century, Western powers have ensured Haiti’s economic dependence and enduring servitude to global capitalism.

This short essay will imagine the global itinerary of a T-shirt assembled at one of Haiti’s export processing zones, the Caracol Industrial Park, located in the north of the country. Under the pretext of post-earthquake ‘development’, this low-wage textile and garment production site, built on fertile farming soil and financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the US government, opened in 2012. The t-shirt, once discarded by the US consumer, will eventually end up washed up on the shores of Cap-Haïtien port in northern Haiti to be resold as pèpè in the global export trade of used clothing. The second part of the essay will consider how visual artists from Haiti have used secondhand clothing or textile fatras (waste) in their work to critique the disposability of Haitian lives within an unequal capitalist and racialised world system.

Itinerary of a T-shirt Fè an Ayiti (Made in Haiti)

At the Caracol industrial park, the South Korean textile and clothing manufacturer, SAE-A under its Haitian subsidiary S&H Global currently employ approximately 10 600 workers. The fabric used in their factories is spun in China and imported to Haiti to be cut and sewn1. The minimum wage for garment workers in Haiti is currently 350 Gourdes per day, which is approximately 5 US dollars. A basic cotton t-shirt assembled by a Haitian worker is then shipped to the US to one of their retail outlets that include Walmart, Target and Old Navy. The t-shirt is purchased for around 10 US dollars and its practical service life (how long it is worn) will be much shorter than its technical service life (how long it could be worn) (Zamani, Sandin and Peters 2017: 1368). Once discarded, the garment will either end up in landfill or enter one of the other reuse channels, such as charitable donation. If the unwanted t-shirt ends up in a clothing donation bin in Miami, it is highly likely that it will be taken to a sorting depot to be sold for export to Haiti. The clothing is sorted according to style (baby clothing and underwear from abroad are particularly sought after items as thought to be superior to local choice) and quality and then sold in bales to Haitian traders (often members of the diaspora who have migrated to the US) who pay approximately 3000 US dollars for a container which fits between 35-40 bales of used clothing. The shipment takes a week to arrive in the northern port of Cap-Haïtien and then a further two weeks to clear Haitian customs. A team of local transporters use large wooden trolleys to deliver the bales of clothing to central depots in the city.

Women traders then buy the bales paying between 8000-9000 Gourdes (125-140 US dollars) for high quality, pèpè bon grenn, and 3000-4000 Gourdes (47-62 US dollars) for lower quality, pèpè mwen bon. The traders pay a man with a wheelbarrow to transport the bale to the pèpè market. As the bundle is opened, and its contents revealed, the event usually attracts a crowd of anticipant customers.

At this stage the t-shirt may be bought by kliyan (customers) or other women traders who plan to resell the garment. In both cases, the kliyan may then require the services of marketside tailors and seamstresses who set up their sewing machines every day under canopies (made with pèpè) and charge between 70-100 Gourdes to alter the fit, or mend a damaged piece of clothing. Women traders may buy a much smaller bundle for around 100-200 Gourdes, selling each piece for around 50 Gourdes on the streets of oKap (as the regional capital is known). Alternatively, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, many traders arrive at the pèpè market from the Haitian border town of Ouanaminthe to replenish their stock. If selected for resale, the t-shirt is rerouted eastwards aboard a taptap minibus and sold in the binational market in Dajabón on the Dominican side. Twice a week on Mondays and Fridays, Haitian traders are permitted entry to the Dominican Republic to sell used clothing, US-grown rice, beans and garlic, imported from Miami. If bought for resale in Dajabón, the t-shirt could eventually end up in a bundle, transported by Dominican or Haitian pepeceras to the market of Santiago on the eastern side of the island (Shoaff 2017).

If, however, the t-shirt does not make it this far, and after two weeks has not been sold, it will most likely be discarded on the streets of oKap and end up as textile waste or fatras, sedimented amongst the banana skins, coconut hulls, spaghetti packets and styrofoam containers that you find lining the streets of the city. Swept outside people’s homes in small piles, washed into the drainage gullies, in the sea and piled in drifts on the beaches: this is fatras. As Haitian conservation scholar Florence Sergile points out, manufactured goods discarded in this fashion are not counted as rubbish by the Haitian authorities, and so left to pollute the environment.2 They are often left to compact into the earth or burnt, emitting polluting gases into the environment, which can be dangerous to public health. Although the t-shirt has been destined for reuse in a Haitian market, it also must be discarded at some point and enters a Haitian waste management system without the resources to enable its ecological disposal. Even in the US, ‘only 15% of textile waste is diverted from landfills even though most of it is 100% reusable or recyclable in some form’ (Lewis, 2015: 233).

Earlier in the chain, textile offcuts or rejected garments are disposed of at the site of manufacture. At Caracol, SAE-A have an incinerator and burn their scrap fabric to produce steam for their iron presses. The fabrics used in production are predominantly made from synthetic fibres which have been criticised for their higher greenhouse gas emissions during manufacture, their non-biodegradability and toxic pollutant emissions during waste management (Muthu, 2014: 14). Sergile points out the contradiction in this textile disposal cycle when she problematises the received notion that ‘tout le monde a besoin de la nourriture en Haïti, mais pas l’environnement’ (everyone needs food in Haiti, but not the environment). Climate vulnerability and the impact of disasters does not help the problem of food insecurity in Haiti. In 2012 Hurricane Isaac destroyed crops across the country. In 2016, the grade 4 storm, Hurricane Matthew, killed over 800 people, decimating homes, crops and livelihoods for thousands of Haiti’s rural population in the southern provinces considered to be Haiti’s ‘breadbasket’. The onomatopoeic goudougoudou – used to refer to the 2010 earthquake in imitation of the sound of the earth shaking – is now used to denote the rumbling of empty stomachs.3 However, a decline in Haitian agriculture must also be attributed to transnational economic deals and foreign trade interests. The increase in women’s factory work in export processing zones such as Caracol correlates with a decline in food production networks that, as Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot wrote, relied on women as the ‘backbone of the Haitian marketing system for local food crops’ (1990). Farmers grew plaintain, beans, corn and manioc on the rich agricultural land of the Caracol valley before they were displaced to make way for the garment assembly plant.4 An even clearer example is that of subsidised rice imports from the US (diri Myami or Miami Rice), which since the 1980s has led to the collapse of domestic Haitian rice production. Instead of increased dependence on cheap imports (manje pèpè), Haitian farmers are demanding food sovereignty.

´Lakansyèl’ by Barbara Prézeau Stephenson, 2013. Photo: Josué Azor.

Layers of Lives Lived on the Periphery

Haitian performance artist, Barbara Prézeau Stephenson, in her critique of rad pèpè (imported secondhand clothing) and homofobi pèpè (imported homophobias), has intervened in the lifecycle of pèpè goods using these castoff garments to contest bodies rendered castoff or disposable in Haitian society. Prézeau’s performance entitled ‘Lakansyèl’, meaning rainbow in Haitian Kreyòl took place as part of the ‘Atis nan Kay la’ series in October 2013. The organisers, Akoustik Prod, selected traditional gingerbread houses in the Pacot neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince for the staging of artistic interventions in an attempt to promote the preservation of this unique Creole architectural heritage. Prézeau’s performance, lasting 25 minutes, took place on the liminal veranda space of the famous Viviane Gauthier Dance School. Dressed in white, the colour worn by ‘servers’ of the Haitian Vodou religion, Prézeau knots together pèpè garments, sorted according to the seven colours of a rainbow. Adopting ritual postures and gestures inspired by Vodou dance forms, the artist knots together a lifeline of used clothing that can be said to represent the dependency of one small nation on a much more powerful other. As the colour-coded clothing entangles the performer, there is a sense of suffocation, mimicking the drowning of local industry by US exports of secondhand clothing.5 The staging of the performance in the threshold space of the veranda, at the intersection between inside and outside, also evokes the in-between yet peripheral status of same-sex loving individuals in Haiti, who are both accepted within the religion of Vodou and largely ostracized in a wider Haitian society that remains heteropatriarchal and homophobic. This performance in the space of the in-between is furthermore a reminder of Haiti’s externally-imposed status on the periphery of the periphery, recently recycled in demeaning and dehumanising terms by the Trump administration.6

Prézeau’s performance recalls the work of Cuban American artists Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz who source materials for their sculptural installations from the waste bins of secondhand clothing shipping companies in Miami’s Little Haiti. Known collectively as Guerra de la Paz since 1996, the artists would scavenge through the sea of castoff clothing discarded outside their studio by export businesses and create work using the pre-worn manufactured garment as a starting point.7 Tribute (2002) is a heap of clothing collected and sorted into a rainbow spectrum, while Indradhanush (2008) forms a physical rainbow that you can walk through. Both pieces are concerned with refashioning the unity of a diverse community as well as exploring the footprint of these objects not only in the physical environment but also in the psychosocial environment. As the artists describe ‘used clothing is charged with layers of history’.8 In revealing these layers of past lives, the sculptures of Guerra de la Paz and performance of Prézeau intervene in the chain of the secondhand clothing trade between the US and Haiti, evoking a history of dependency and secondhand colonial ideologies.

Haitian artist, Céleur Jean Hérard, one of the founding members of the Port-au-Prince based Grand Rue collective, has used pèpè in his work to send a message to the international community. His sculptural relief made with secondhand shoes that have been sent to Haiti as in-kind donations from the US draws attention to the recipient of these unwanted items. The sculpture questions the performance of giving, a hypervisible participation in global aid, which involves the disposal of unsolicited and often useless goods on the doorstep of those deemed in need, who are rarely consulted in the process. Following the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was flooded with international donations, a post-disaster phenomenon known as ‘material convergence’ (Holguín-Veras et al. 2013). The amount of goods arriving was unmanageable and ‘about 80% of clothing donations were useless’ (6). This logic of giving at the heart of post-disaster development narratives tends to maintain inequalities between the helper and the helpless, echoing colonial binaries between the white ‘saviour’ and the black ‘primitive’ in need of saving.

In the context of Haiti, Colin Dayan reminds us that Haitians themselves have often been thought of as disposable, when she points to a racism ‘that depends for its power on the conceptual force of the “superfluous”, what can be rendered as “remnants” or “waste” or “dirt”… to be “disposable” is not having the capacity to be dispossessed, to be nothing more than dispensable stuff’ (2015: 93). The art of salvaging (as performed in the work of Prézeau and Hérard) becomes therefore an important means to highlight the persistence of a racialized global order and question the ongoing pèpèrizasyon of Haiti and its people, who do not necessarily want or need a hand-me-down t-shirt from the West. In 2017, Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, announced that Rwanda plans to ban imports of secondhand clothing by 2019, despite threats from the United States, currently the largest exporter of used clothing, that they will withdraw preferential trade benefits for Rwandan goods in the event of a ban. Proponents of the secondhand clothing industry, facilitated by economic liberalisation agreements between the US and Haiti over the past sixty years, have foregrounded its potential to generate employment, stymy the environmental impact of textile consumption, and ‘help’ people who cannot afford locally made new clothing (Gasseling 2017: 1282; Lewis & Pringle 2015). While officially prohibited in Haiti, the secondhand clothing industry continues to thrive as domestic textile production dwindles.9 In one boutique of Cap-Haïtien that sells new clothing, a rare find in the city, the owner explains to me that, due to high import tariffs on new goods, he must hide stock that he wishes to import from Miami within larger bales of secondhand clothing. While this is a prime example of an innovative management of a trade system that privileges a unidirectional flow of US imports and castoffs into Haiti, this case demonstrates how open borders remain firmly in the interest of the dominant global players, not the local community.  

¹The company will benefit from the US trade agreements, the Haitian HOPE (Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement) Act and HELP (Haiti Economic Lift Program), till 2025. These agreements allow manufacturers in the garment assembly sector in Haiti to profit from duty-free exports to the US market. Together with reduced transport costs due to the proximity of Haiti to the US, this is currently the main advantage of working in Haiti for firms such as SAE-A.

²Sergile discussed the problem of fatras in Haiti during her keynote address entitled ‘Vision 2020: reconnaissance, réflexions et chantiers’ at the Haitian Studies Association 28th Annual Conference in Cap Haïtien, Haiti, 2016.

³See ‘The Haiti Support Group Briefing’, October 2012: file:///F:/Cardiff%202/2016-17/Haiti%20Support%20Group%20Textiles/Haiti_Briefing_72.pdf


5School uniforms remain some of the only garments that independent Haitian tailors are still regularly asked to sew and are a reminder of how existing textile manufacturing has been displaced with donations from the US or garment assembly development models that largely serve North American economic interests. See Leah Gordon’s photography series The Tailors of Port-au-Prince:

6See Haitian author Edwidge Danticat’s response to Donald Trump’s racist labelling of Haiti as a “shithole country”, Miami Herald, “Haitians are used to insults. Friday, we mourned. Today, we fight”, January 12, 2018.

7See the artists’ website:

8Reference to interview with Guerra de la Paz by Lindsey Davis for the March/April 2016 issue of Art 21 magazine on the theme of renewal:

9In an effort to redress this imbalance, the Chambre de Métier et de l’Artisanat d’Haïti (CMAH) has set up an initiative (together with Oxfam and the Groupe d’appui aux repatriés et refugiés (GARR)) to support and offer training to tailors and seamstresses working in marginalised rural communities of Haiti.


Dayan, Colin. 2015. ‘The Gods in the Trunk, or Writing in a Belittered World’ in Kaiama L. Glover and Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken Revisiting Marie Vieux Chauvet: Paradoxes of the Postcolonial Feminine. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Gasseling, Kelsey. ‘The Threads of Justice: Economic Liberalization and the Secondhand Clothing Trade Between the U.S. and Haiti’. Boston College Law Review 58 (4): 1279 – 1319.

Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London: Verso.

Holguín-Veras, José, Miguel Jaller, Luk N. Van Wassenhove, Noel Pérez, and Tricia Wachtendorf. 2013. “Material Convergence: An Important and Understudied Disaster Phenomenon.” Paper presented at WCTR conference, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Klein, Naomi. 2007. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. London: Penguin.

Lewis, Tasha. 2015. ‘Apparel Disposal and Reuse’. In Sustainable Apparel : Production, Processing and Recycling. Blackburn: Woodhead Publishing.

Lewis, Tasha L., and Anne Pringle. 2015. “Local Buttons: Sustainable Fashion and Social Entrepreneurship in Haiti.” Journal of Contemporary African Art 37: 114-125.

Muthu, Subramanian Senthilkannan. 2014. Assessing the Environmental Impact of Textiles and the Clothing Supply Chain. Oxford: Woodhead Publishing

Schuller, Mark. 2016. Humanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Shamsie, Yasmine. 2014. “La construction d’un parc industriel dans l’arrière-pays rural d’Haïti. Quelques observations sur le partenariat État-société et les capacités de l’État.” Cahier des Amériques latines 75: 79-96. doi: 10.4000/cal.3131

Shell, Hanna Rose. 2006. ‘Textile Skin’. Transition 96(1): 152-163.

Shoaff, Jennifer L. 2017. Borders of Visibility: Haitian Migrant Women and the Dominican Nation-state. Tuscaloosa : The University of Alabama Press.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1990. Haiti State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Zamani, Bahareh, Sandin, Gustav, and Greg M. Peters. 2017. ‘Life cycle assessment of clothing libraries: can collaborative consumption reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion?’. Journal of Cleaner Production 162: 1368 – 1375.

Charlotte Hammond is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Cardiff University, UK (2016-20). Her current project examines modes of solidarity and resistance between women garment workers, and the formation of sustainable fashion communities, in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She is the author of Entangled Otherness: Cross-Gender Fabrications in the Francophone Caribbean, published with Liverpool University Press in 2018.




Tricia Allen


Ghosts float across these lines
sour-faced shadows
float across this house

white as the night
heavy with dust
and the scent of rain

Ghosts swallow smiles
gnaw at my lines
mouths full of teeth.

the colour of drought

When she arrive, she wear disguise:
her face covered with bandana
yellow dress swinging in evening breeze
yellow dress clinging to skin
You would think she is festival queen
The way she moving in the breeze
Everybody come look
because they never see a woman tall so
and proud so wearing the sun in her skin
You ask her to wine her hips
and you play music,
beating the drums deep into the night

So she dance for you,
twisting her hips
loosening the yellow
revealing nakedness
the colour of terracotta  
and yet she getting hotter still
wearing the sun in her smile

You feel like is fire inside you
a fire twisting                                                                                                                                                                                                         you insides into ash
a fire that sucking the earth beneath you dry
But you watch her dancing                                                                                                                                                                               

                                      still mesmerized by her nakedness
or was it the sunlight in her yellow dress?




Arturo Desimone


I stand–elbows and knees locked–before an idol,
of mock-marble faded by the sun that shot
through the whorled branches of the Ceiba tree:

Here, stands a statue for the Rosenbergs,
in Zapata street, in Havana.
The date of the murder,
and an inscription that reads
as a friend’s personal note to Julius
& Ethel Rosenberg.
Here, in the shadow of the Ceiba;
and in weak adobe bread-oven-brick and mortar:
that you were

A boy on a bicycle selling plastic junk hisses ‘Pssst’ to catch my attention
But I am not interested in his plastics,
while standing here: before a statue for the Rosenbergs,
here: in Zapata street.

My grandmother Naomi saw them, on TV
when they were still alive.
She danced the jitterbug in her youth (but not on that day)
Naomi cried for Frankie
Sinatra, when he died…

A pain behind my lungs is my heart, excised
by shining black blade from most poems;
but the pain in my pain,
surges from boiled tap-water
they use in the guayaba
and in tamarind juice
to dilute—
I carry, in my pocket
poems of Juan de la Cruz:
who was tortured,
sentenced and, once, a Jew.
He sent himself Up to a cloud
when he wanted to….

A bruise, in my mystic forehead
remembers: Russian ruins, Persian ruins,
rubble brought to the tropics.
Rubles, too.
Ruins, brought to the lips,
in a baby-spoon with guayaba,
spoiled and made of me a mangled scribe.

In heaven, electric chairs zoom,
dragging curtains and chains,
with anvils and ploughs down below, and Rosa
saying ‘’Those who do not move,
do not see their chains.’’
Electric thrones just reek of such Christian Apocalypse—
You know, the one with hell in it—
Nobody intends to be Executioner,
when blaming a Cruz,
or pinning it
on The Russians.

Further down alphabetically ordered road,
looms the Necropolis: most vast,
patient cemetery of the Americas,
(Executioners and executed, by pelotón squad.)
Black carcasses of birds and lambs,
left as offerings to darken outside
the yolk-coloured high walls,
across the street from myriad flower shops,
for gladiolas, and those deigning more decorum.

Jews bring and drop stones,
not hyacinths for the dead.
Flowers as Kaddish are gifts
for the living, as the Spring.
On the other hand, someone’s
been depositing slain roosters
for the dead. But that practice falls neither
under the date-palm shade of kosher,
nor under the taller

It is not a ruse,
that Havana
sports no fewer than 4 synagogues,
and many feuds
(the Grand Synagogue
shares the multiplex
edifice with the Brecht theatre)
And never
did war conflagrate between them.

Such wars go unmentioned,
in official Samson-census history, at least—
But many a tamarind-bitter tale stands scrawled,
engraved even,
on invisible bathroom walls of Jericho—
and under bark and whorled root of the Ceiba,
tree of life, which stands, sprawls–
Guarded by the Chichirricú,
(the dweller, who says “cheecheereecoo!”)
its spirit, Guardian Cherub…

Arturo Desimone, Arubian-Argentinian writer and visual artist born in 1984 on the island Aruba, which he inhabited, emigrated to the Netherlands at the age of 22 after writing the poem ”Age 22.” Author relocated to Argentina, while working on a long fiction project about childhoods, diasporas, islands and religion. Desimone’s articles, poetry, and fiction pieces have previously appeared in CounterPunch, Hinchas de Poesía, Moko, Island magCírculo de Poesía , Sydney ReviewNew Orleans Review, and he writes a blog about Latin American poetry  for Anomaly, Notes on a Journey to the Ever Dying Lands. This April sees the release of a collection of poems related to politics of the (mostly Mediterranean) sea, Poems of the Costa Nostra / Mare Nostrum, with Hesterlglock, a UK press. In March, a different poetry collection, Ouafa and Thawra, gets released with African Books Collective.




Divya Persaud

kala pani

consorting in the kala pani
a sea snake ruptured against
the insides of the selachii
cuts her tail into their guts, whence

spill their finite utterings: she,
stretched among three, collects
these words of her brine suspects
and rebuilds herself from the sea-

water that envelops their entrails—
shark shattered upon shark, froth
rots their cage-bones; uncaught,
darkness welcomes her slick sails.

she and it devour each other—devour—
as the sharp-things do cower

a provocation

sorrel coat my throat in blood—
                hibiscan, wretched, teeth-cut red;
the angle of a pupil bred
                in venal entanglement, floral

against my tongue, in these eyes;
                drop this in the sea and watch it turn,
frustrated in the bodies’ churn
                to chew those bones so sentenced—

shut my irises from that star’s light-show
                and let a tracheal tsunami break
and let it rake blood and bone, slow
                and let it cut, and let it grow;

and see this flower in my sight
                and see this crimson flutter here
and see her blossom from my fear
                and watch the sun impart the night

on these my eyes, red—
                in this my throat, red—
unto this my blood, red—
                for these teeth, so red

Demerara yields to no country in the world (based on Wanderings in South America by Charles Waterton)

a wave might resign
              into a lagoon

into itself

out from itself
              a river

              meeting an

algal gauze

wrapped around
              its feet

              upturned and

in the

a bee procured about a clump of several species of nightshades, which were flowering in thinned-out jungle (based on Bees from British Guiana by T.D.A.

a hummingbird with black eyes
meets those surfaces with mine—

cracks my integumental dome,
reaches into my purple-tinted thorax

              through this heart-chest
              through this star-shard-laden

heat; a tongue which extends
not beyond my abdomen—struck

              silent in the salted air brought
              on those wings from the sea—

a banded abdomen, a fuliginous
flurry, the sound of this

              extreme apex, snapping, dusky:
              integument of clypeus black

the heat of the water (based on Up the Mazaruni for Diamonds by William La Varre)

you drop a pearl from your palm
              into my depth; the sun-caught
fish-things dash away and let

it through. Rests its head on a
              blackened pillow. Tosses and
turns; lifts for a moment, then

rests once more. You are always
              giving me strange gifts. This
one doesn’t know where it is.

I see it flinching still at the
              heat of the water. Open a
mouth wide, close it, open,

looking for something from that
              undarkened skin that rests
atop me—gulping, in the meantime,

unsure whether it drinks from
              the fires of Phaeton or the
milk of the wide, kind Lethe—

it matters not. A scorch and a
              forgotten scale of memory look
the same in the lacquer of a

pearl. I know a portage must
              be made, and I pull together
tree bones and send the

pearl on its way, downriver,
              where it might wash up on
              the mangroves, and still.

Divya M. Persaud is a writer, composer, and planetary scientist of Indo-Caribbean heritage from New Jersey. She is the recipient of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective Editor’s Choice Award for her experimental book of poetry, do not perform this (GIPC, 2019), and the author of poetry collections color (2016) and de caelo et tellure (2015). Her poems have appeared in The Deaf Poets Society as well as The Aerogram. Divya is additionally the composer of THEY WILL BE FREE: a song cycle (2017), an album that fuses epic poetry and contemporary classical music. Divya is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in planetary imaging in the United Kingdom.




Des Seebaran

A Corbeaux Villanelle

Anyone could tell me why man stay so?
If you say yes, they must say no.
Playing dead to catch corbeaux.

My friend had a man, real nice darkie
But he leave her dry dry cause he mother say so.
Anyone could tell me why man stay so?

Moms say she too dark, she can’t raise the blood.
She sanction a reds who bring her son low.
Playing dead to catch corbeaux

I see him last week; he loss he wuk,
she take house, child and put him outta road.
Anyone could tell me why man stay so?

Ah nex’ one I hear propose to a gyul
But getting him to marriage was like making it snow.
He play dead to catch corbeaux.

The slap up start right after wedding;
the ink still wet, but was blow after blow.
Anyone could tell me why man stay so?

She bloody and bruise six days out of seven,
but using concealer and calling it ‘glow’.
Playing dead to feed corbeaux.

The day she leave is the day she dead;
She pack a bag, he lock the door.
Anyone could tell me why man stay so?
Leaving the dead to catch corbeaux.

Oriki-Elegy For Vanessa

Vanessa, I loved your slow stride,
weighing your body on a cracked
pavement, dark skin glinting
on peeling walls, dark lips bold
under the trees of our small park;
every cut-eye purposeful, every
hip sway a tool. Vanessa, you wore
tight black dresses like a sin,
bracing, bubbling, not poised
to suffer fools.Vanessa, always armed:
weapons inked into your skin,
metal piercing clean through.
You preferred the scars you could control.
Vanessa, you always wore gold,
and some snatched wig, calling men
and women to arms in Murray Street night.
Vanessa, your man walking behind you
(who can remember his face?)
and young boy ahead. I saw you
scan the street for any who dared
maljo what was yours. Vanessa,
your rare laughter was more of
a flash of fierceness than of joy.
Vanessa, did they ambush you?
Did they feed you with the left hand?
Did they burn candles, scrape
bad mind into a calabash?
Vanessa, who flung you
like refuse down a precipice?
Vanessa, your wine-and-walk,
your thick slashes of jewelry didn’t
stop whoever from snapping your neck,
leaving you nude, fetid and foetal
on dark, rotting land. Vanessa, they
real outta hand, photographing
your body in pieces, and still,
you reposed like a badjohn,
even in your rigor. Militancy
still armoured into your skin.
They could not strip you enough
to make your flesh hide itself,
to force your skin to rot and run.
The earth refused to hold your body
until your life was sung.

Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, Tuesday October 11, 2016—The decomposing body of a woman found yesterday at the bottom of a precipice off Morne Coco Road, Maraval, has been identified as 28-year-old Vanessa Roxanne ‘Buffy’ Ackie. Police believe the woman, who was known to work on Murray Street, Woodbrook, was murdered and her body dumped in the bushy area.


For Pearl


Jolted by a glimpse of you
along a rutted country road.
15 years ago,
they dragged me
to the funeral,
and it
felt like ashes
in my mouth.

The coffin open wide –
Over-painted mouth,
grey powdered skin;
clownish ruin of yourself.
I stood terrified as you shrieked,
blaming me
for how they dressed your corpse;
the dream fence contained
your rage
until your nine days passed,
and your body crumbled into

You were ruthless with me,
ripping at my crooked stitches,
my wrinkled bed sheets,
insisting that I be good enough
until I was.
As methodically as you nurtured rose bushes,
plants that never
quite settled in this soil, and
withered quickly as your house emptied.


It is empty now.
All your plants and hedges are gone.
There are dried leaves
in the drains,

dust playing mas on your porch
as if it mattered.
And for 15 years, I have not known
how to reap peace from grief.

I hold now
glimpses of you,
links of the yellow gold you loved,
So I would remember your pruning,
and grow toward
the sun.
To see you
barrel by in that green,
rusted coffin of a car,
was a flash of light
to guide me;
a full moon to plant myself in,
and thrive.

Bury Me


“When I dead, bury mih clothes;
I don’t want no sweet man to wear mih clothes.”
– Growling Tiger, When I Dead

Sweating, sweating
flinging words like
a real batonniere,
flinging lash like
I don’t know fear;

feeling the crack
of jumbie whip,
of bones,
of wood in every
every dance step,
each stumbling trip
the gayelle.

I should ah be
a chantuelle,
to call up
a thickened night sky
and level the spirits
speaking tongues.

My breath lick like
flare like
a nine-night limbo,
my bwa is spirit-tipped,
and treacherous.
It only have one road
one ring
one place
for me.
My gayelle
the cemetery.

When I dead, bury meh clothes

Is better I lavway
give way
put all my sins
behind me

mount the bwa

Let the throbbing kalinda
across the gayelle
and into memory
Let them send back
a message in the buss head
and tell me why
I born seeing jumbie
in the wood

why I born so dread
so dry,
feeling to die.
Hold the poui
hold the poui
and pray.
The cutter drum leading the way.

Desiree Seebaran is a Trinidadian poet, writer & editor. She is an alum of the Cropper Foundation Residential Workshop for Writers (2010) and the inaugural Moko Magazine Poetry Masterclass (2018). Her work has been shortlisted for the 2014 small axe literary competition (poetry). She’s also been published in the Cordite Poetry Review 81 (May 2017) and shortlisted in Frontier Poetry’s Award for New Poets Contest 2017. In 2019, her poems “The Sweetest Horn” and “Bone” were published in Interviewing the Caribbean journal, and an earlier version of her chapbook manuscript Canal Water was chosen as one of three highly commended entries by judge Amy Wack in the 2018 PBS & Mslexia Women’s Pamphlet Competition.




Kristine Simelda


I sprint down the narrow alleyway, arms pumping and feet flying. Boots pound the broken pavement behind me—blap, blap, blap. Babylon is hot on my tail. “Stop or we’ll shoot!” the cops holler like a line straight out of a movie.

        I pick up my pace. The pockets of my cargo jeans are stuffed with wads of lightweight cash instead of the bulky mangoes I pilfered in my youth, so I might have a chance. Yeah, man. If I can pull this off, everything is bound to improve. I can settle my debts, pay Ma’s doctor bills, liberate my sister from the gangsta who’s holding her captive, and maybe even wrangle a set of wheels. But first I have to ditch the law.

I race past closed shops and rundown shanties. A borrowed ski mask scratches at my eyes. Broken glass crunches underfoot, and ghetto dust that smells like stale pee fills my nose. A familiar voice rings in my ears when I swing around a tight corner. ‘Where you think you going, Lucien?’


I lose concentration and step down on a nail sticking out from a rotten board. Blood gushes from the sole of my sneaker. I stagger into a dimly-lit doorway and try to pry the wood loose. It comes off in my hand, but the nail stays put. I stare at the pool collecting under my foot, and I start to feel giddy. But I can’t rest here for long.

The sound of angry voices launches me back onto the road. I tear off the sweat-soaked mask and see a telltale trail of red soaking into the dust. I limp toward the gate to the abandoned botanic gardens. For a moment I think to surrender. But the barrier that separates the innocence of my childhood from the chaos of this messed up modern world is right in front of me now. Breathless, scared shitless, I lunge toward the gate like a wild animal trying to escape its cage. Gunshots explode all around me. Sparks ricochet off of the chain link like fireworks. I vault up and over. My bulging pocket catches on a piece of stray wire on the way down. The bundle of money spills out while I struggle to get free. Fuck! I leave my pants hanging like forgotten laundry and hop across the lawn in my boxers. But the police have circled around and are waiting at the other end, so I pull up short.  

Lights flash and harsh words blare from bullhorns. I crouch down in the weeds under one of the few remaining trees in the place. Panting, I lean back against the trunk and gaze up through the huge umbrella-like foliage trying to come up with a plan. That’s when it dawns on me: I’m sheltering under the Century palm. According to family lore, it’s the same tree that my great-great-grandfather brought with him from England as a seedling and planted in our botanic gardens. Granny Lucy, who was my mentor and my round-a-bout namesake, used to bring me here during school holidays and tell me stories about days gone by. But now’s not the time to linger on memory lane. Things are extra crucial. I squeeze my eyes shut and hold my breath while seeds the size of ping pong balls rain down on my head. I don’t exhale until the cops pass me straight and head for the massive stand of bamboo where lovers meet and criminals lurk.

I’m thinking to make a break for it when I hear Granny’s voice again. ‘Can you believe it, Lucien? It’s been exactly one hundred years.’

The present moment slips away, and my mind rewinds to a simpler, happier time.


“Lucien, this tree is one of the most amazing plants in nature,” Granny Lucy used to say when we picnicked under the Century palm. “That’s why my grandfather, Sir Henry, brought a seedling along on the boat when he was appointed chief horticulturalist on this island. Near the end of its life, it sends up a flag pole from the center of its crown that turns into a Christmas tree when it blooms.”

I was just a little kid. “No way!” I giggled. “With baubles and lights and all?”

“Would I lie to you, boy?” She smiled and gave me a hug. “But it spends so much energy sending up that big shoot—making all those flowers and setting all that fruit—that it forgets about taking care of number one. Eight months later, it withers and dies.”

I didn’t like to hear about death since my father, Archie, had been killed in a car crash, but Granny Lucy continued talking as if dying was the natural thing to do. “Of course, I’ll never live to see it. It only happens once in a hundred years. That’s why it’s called the Century palm.”

“We’ll see it together, Gran,” I said hopefully.

“No, Lucien. By that time I’ll be gone. But if you keep your eyes open, you’re sure to witness it for yourself.”

Things were different after Granny passed on. My life wasn’t fun like before. I begged Ma to take me to visit the Century palm, but she never did. Then the weather on the island began to change. It was broiling hot and hardly ever rained. Rivers dried up, and water, which had always been so plentiful, had to be rationed. People used buckets and old metal drums to collect dew off their roofs, but there was barely enough water to keep mosquito larva afloat. After the island’s crops failed, folks weren’t much interested in anything beyond day-to-day survival. Horticulture was considered a lost art, and Sir Henry’s prized botanic gardens were permanently closed.

When Ma got sick with a viral fever, she lost her job. Things were tight at home, so I joined a teenage gang to free myself up. Granny would be vexed to know that smoking weed and jamming rude music with my partners was suddenly more interesting than family life. But as far as I could reckon, there was only one way to get the cash I needed for Ma’s medicine and to score the drugs I was hooked on. I started out stealing from friends and neighbors, and then I moved up to robbing gas stations, small businesses, and finally ATMs. I’d been running from a cash machine tonight, but I shoulda known that on a small island like this there’s really no place to hide.


So here I sit under the same tree where Granny used to bring me when I was small—caught like a rat in a trap, stuck like a fly on a strip of sticky yellow paper. I go to reach into my pants pocket for something to ease my mind, and I’m surprised to find I’m not wearing any—pants, that is. I left them attached to the gate.   

Something in the air shifts, like a bell being struck in the distance. The wind moans, and the dead leaves of the Century palm rattle against its trunk like shak-shaks in an old-fashioned jing ping band. Shak, shaka-shaka, shak. Time stands still for a moment and then fast-forwards. When I look up, I see a translucent sprout that looks like a fountain shooting from the palm’s crown just like Granny told me it would. It’s covered with thousands of white blossoms that shine like magic against the dark sky. Ghostly shapes that are either bats or jumbies slam into the ripe fruit. The moon passes through all of its phases eight separate times. I feel the ground shake. Then a long drawn-out cracking sound echoes through the abandoned gardens. Right on schedule, the Century palm collapses. It flattens everything in its path including me, worthless, thiefing Lucien.

I expect to get some sympathy from Granny Lucy, but she seems amused instead.  ‘Eh, eh. Took you by surprise, not true? Don’t worry, Lucien. You’re too young to die.’

As usual, Granny’s right. I might be knocked out on the lawn, but I’m still breathing.  Maybe there’s still hope for a rude boy like me. Maybe it’s not too late to change.


Granny and I used to play a numbers game. To be born, she said, everyone had to have had two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on. Granny Lucy, her grandfather Sir Henry and his wife, Priscilla; their daughter Jasmine and her husband, Geoffrey; and my father, Archie, were all milling around in my head. I hoped they might have some positive advice to offer me, but most of the talk was negative. As far as I can remember, the conversation went something like this . . .

“Lucien. I’m really disappointed in you,” Sir Henry said, shaking his finger. “I thought a chap with your breeding would have had better sense than to get yourself into this kind of mess.”

I swallowed hard. “Believe me, sir; I didn’t plan it this way. Why’d you plant that big ole stupid tree in the first place if you knew it was going to self-destruct?”

Henry frowned and straightened his vest. “The Century palm is not on trial here, you are! But for your information, Lucien, I planted the tree because I was brought up to believe it was important to leave something meaningful behind for future generations. That’s why I married Priscilla. She was a respectable woman who I expected would raise up proper, God-fearing children.”

I cut my eyes at Priscilla. She looked kinda fuzzy. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“Lord help us to rise above our suffering,” she mumbled.

“Speak up!” Henry boomed. “How many times have I told you to enunciate clearly?”

She didn’t answer, only shrank further into her shell.

Sir Henry turned his attention back to me. “As I was saying, I planted the Century palm as a legacy. What, I wonder, will be your contribution?”

I shrugged. I had to admit I’d never given it much thought. “Maybe I’ll have some cute little kids someday,” I said.  

“To what avail? So you can teach them how to thief like you do? In your case, genetics must have gone astray.”

His daughter Jasmine interrupted. She died the year I was born, but I knew her from a picture Granny Lucy showed me when I was small. “Why are you always so judgmental, Papa?” she asked.

“Because I’ve been knighted!” Henry shouted.

But Jasmine didn’t back down like her mother. “Well, things are a lot different nowadays. I hope you haven’t forgotten how hard Geoff and I campaigned for social reform in the Caribbean so people could have choices about how they lived their lives.”

Sir Henry peered over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses and glared at her. “You always were a rabble-rouser, working on that radical newsletter and delivering it to foolish women like yourself by bicycle. And when you married that colored man, a Catholic nonetheless, things went from bad to worse.”  

I knew that Henry was a devout Christian with very strict beliefs, but the fact that he was prejudiced, intolerant of women, black folks, and Catholics was news to me.

“I loved Geoff,” Jasmine said. “Together, we fought for equal rights and justice.”

Geoffrey, a handsome devil, smiled. “And I loved Jazzy, too.”

“Ha!” Henry ranted. “You left her alone with those horrible half-breed children in order to pursue your own trumped-up political career! And when they finally threw you out of parliament, my daughter welcomed you home with open arms. Had you no pride, man?”

Hmm. Interesting. According to Granny, Geoffrey had been a good father, and Jasmine was a shining example of maternal love.

“Get a grip, Grandpa,” Lucy said. “This is about Lucien, not some grudge you have against my daddy.”

But rather than being insulted, Geoffrey seemed delighted. He winked at Henry and swatted Jasmine’s backside. “Let’s go, sweetheart,” he said.    

Henry, fuming, followed them out just as my father, Archie, butted in. “Luce? Aha! There you are. I’ve been looking for you.”

I wondered when he was going to show up. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Archie. He was generous and funny when he was sober. But when he was drunk, it was a whole other story.

Granny prickled even more. “Who invited you?”

Come to think of it, Sir Henry wasn’t the only one in the family who was prejudiced. She never could abide the fact that Archie, a pureblooded Kalinago Indian, stole my mother away to live on the reservation and then disrespected her. As far as she was concerned, Ma had wasted her energy trying to turn the savage into a decent man.

Accustomed to Gran’s hostility, my father carried on as usual. “I thought this was supposed to be a party,” he said, making me wonder if they had cask rum here in La-La Land. “By the way, son, how’s your mother? How’s Rosie?”

“Ma’s been sick for some time.”

At the mention of my mother’s illness, Granny really went off. “That’s why Lucien took to stealing,” she said. “If you hadn’t been such a vagabond, there might have been something left over for Rose and the children when you died.”   

It was past time for this conversation to get real. “Actually, helping Ma wasn’t the only reason for my thiefing. I was greedy and hooked on drugs,” I said.

My father didn’t seem to hear me. He was already on the move, probably headed to the next rum shop. But by the way he looked at me before he faded into the background, I could tell he was disappointed.

“Wait!” I pleaded. “I can change! I’ll make you proud someday!” But Archie just kept on walking.

I turned to face Granny, who seemed to be the only one willing to listen. “Gran, I’m sorry I let you down. I love you, and I never meant to cause you any pain. I promise I’ll try to do better from now on.”

She squeezed my hand. Granny liked to talk tough, but she was like a hard nut with a soft, sweet center when it came to dealing with me. “Apology accepted, Lucien. Everyone deserves a second chance. Let’s just hope you’re smart enough to take advantage of it. Now snap out of it, boy!”


I wake up in a clean but unfamiliar bed as if Granny had waved a magic wand. My girlfriend Patsy is bent over me with a worried look on her face. “Boy, Lucien. That was some fever you had going on. We thought we were gonna lose you for a time.”

“Fever? What fever? Where am I?”

“You’re in the hospital. The doctors said you might have got tetanus in your foot. They gave you a series of injections. Whatever it was, it caused you to hallucinate bad, man.”

“What did I say?”

“You kept on raving about losing your pants.”

When I check under the sheets, I see that my foot’s bandaged, and I’m wearing the same boxer shorts as in the gardens. “Patsy, do you have any idea what happened to my jeans?”

“You were wearing those same boxers when you were admitted.”

“And what about the money?”

“What money?”

I decide it’s best to change the subject. “Never mind. How’s Ma?”

“Your mom’s doing better,” Patsy says. “She’s been to visit you every day.”

“How long have I been in here?”

“Over a week. But the doctors said as soon as the fever broke, you could go home. So many people are ill with the mosquito borne virus; I guess they need the bed.”

“Home to where?”

“Don’t you remember? We rented a house right before you got sick. It needs a lot of work—a couple of gallons of bleach to get rid of the smell and a new coat of paint—but the place is ours for the time.”

“Actually, I don’t remember much from before. How’re we gonna pay for it?”

“I got a job!”

“Doing what?”

“When the nurses saw what good care I took of you, they recommended me as an aide. I start next week.”

I can’t get over my luck. Somehow I’ve escaped from the cops, Ma is better, and I have a nice girl with a job plus a place to go home to. But then I remember the money. “Yeah, but what am I supposed to do to earn bread?”

Patsy has me sitting up in a wheelchair and is buttoning my shirt. “Don’t worry, baby, something will turn up.” She gives me a hug and a long, sweet kiss. “For now we just have to concentrate on getting you well.”

I grin. “I’m feeling better already.”

The bus ride through the ghetto to our shack is depressing. Peeling paint, derelict galvanized, and the smell of garbage are chronic. Partners dealing drugs and ladies of the night selling their bodies in broad daylight are draped on every corner. Old friends call out to me as we pass, but I turn my head and hold onto my girlfriend’s hand like a drowning man holds onto a life ring. A wave of déjà vu ripples through my gut when the bus turns into the alley that dead-ends at the botanic gardens.

Wait a minute. Was the scene with the cops chasing me real, or was it a hallucination caused by the fever? What about my bandaged foot and missing pants, not to mention the collapse of the Century palm and the time I spent in La-La Land with Granny Lucy and my troublesome ancestors?

I’m still wondering when I hobble inside the ramshackle house.

“Make yourself at home,” Patsy says. “I’ll warm up the food.”

I’m surprised to find a plastic leather recliner parked in front of a brand new TV set in the living room. I peep into the bedroom. “How’d you get the money for all this?”

“I took credit at Blings,” Patsy calls from the kitchen. “Once I start work, we can get a mirror and dresser to match the bed.”

I sigh and pick up her cell phone. I guess I left mine in my pants, wherever they are. I dial Ma. She sounds okay at first, but when I start to tell her about my run in with Granny and Archie, she doesn’t believe me.

“But it was so real. Archie even asked about you.” She sucks her teeth and cuts the call short.

While we eat, I quiz Patsy to see if she knows anything about a robbery that happened about a week ago. She thinks I’m talking about the news report that’s blaring from the TV. “Which robbery? There’s dozens of them every day.”

It’s time to come clean. “I might have robbed an ATM,” I whisper. “I kind of remember the Babylon chasing me. I stepped on a nail, lost my jeans with the stolen money in the pockets, and then the Century palm collapsed on top of me.”

“What collapsed?”

“The Century palm. The tree Sir Henry brought with him from England as a seedling.”

“Who’s Sir Henry?”

“Granny Lucy’s grandfather.”

“Granny Lucy?”

I realize I’ve never bothered to discuss my family history with Patsy. “Granny Lucy was the most important person in my life, besides Ma, and now you, of course.”

“You keep talking about money,” she says. “What money?”

“I guess that part might be wishful thinking.”

Patsy smiles and shows her dimples. “Lucien, you’re crazy, but I love you anyway.”

“I love you, too, baby.”  


Time passes. Patsy starts work, but I’m still too shell shocked to function. I can’t get the “incident” out of my mind. Friends call offering drugs, but I’m determined to stay clean. I need to look for a job, but I’m afraid to show my face on the block. So I stay inside the house brooding with the curtains drawn. Then one especially boring afternoon, I get up and wander outside. The yard looks like nobody cares. There are no trees or shrubs, not even a flower plant in an old paint tin to liven up the porch steps. I feel useless and ashamed. Why haven’t I bothered to try to fix the place up? I look longingly down the road toward the botanic gardens, the oasis that was special to me as a child. The gate is off its hinges, so it would be easy enough to squeeze through.

A mangy dog whines and beats its tail in the dirt as I wriggle inside. The place is like a desert now. There’s no trace of the Century palm or any other greenery, only a kind of corral made from branches of dead bamboo off in a corner. For some reason I start to cry. I guess it’s because everything that connected me to the past has disappeared, the present moment sucks, and I have no clue about the future. Tears are running down my cheeks when a voice—definitely not Granny’s—startles me.

“Lucien?” An old white man wearing a pith helmet with a ratty ole feather stuck in the hatband taps me on the shoulder.

I jump back. “Who are you, and how you know my name?”

He sets down his wheelbarrow and wipes his brow. “I used to work here. Your Granny Lucy and I are related.”

“Related how?”  

“By blood. I’m Henry.”

I study him. “Sir Henry?”

“You can drop the Sir, Lucien. I’ve come to realize that all that pomp and ceremony was ridiculous in the long view. Colonial times are gone, thank goodness. Everybody gets to be themselves now.”

“Okay. If you say so. What’s in the barrow?”

“Seedlings and whatnot.”

“What kind of seedlings?”

“Century palms. The ground was littered with seeds where the old tree used to be. I set up a nursery over there under the cover of the bamboo. Come on. I’ll show you.”

I follow him and his squeaking wheelbarrow across the parched lawn. He pushes back the circle of dead branches to reveal a patch of tilled ground. “Let’s plant the palms here,” he says. “If we water them regularly and give them some fertilizer, one or two might survive.”

“You want me to help you?”

“Everybody needs a little help.”

I’m surprised at Henry’s humility. I guess I’m not the only one in my family trying to change. Truth be told, I’m glad to have something constructive to do. Maybe caretaking runs in our genes after all.

“No problem, Henry. But maybe we should start with something that matures quicker. A Century palm takes a hundred years to flower, you know.”

“Of course I know. I’m just glad you were lucky enough to see it for yourself. But why not give your progeny the same opportunity?”

I’m unsure about the meaning of the word progeny, so I start to dig a hole. “You’re right,” I say eventually. “It would be good to leave something positive behind for posterity—that is, if I ever have any children.”

“Don’t worry. You will,” Henry says.

He seems so certain about my future that I believe him. We work side by side for a time before I get up the nerve to ask, “By the way, do you know anything about a robbery around here a while back?”

Henry grins mischievously. Then he gets up off his knees and walks to the barrow. With great flair, he pulls out my cargo jeans, the ski mask, and a blood-stained board like he’s some sorta magician. “Looking for these, boy?”

I try to snatch the evidence away, but he’s too quick.

“I was planning to burn these rags and bury the ashes in the same bed where we plant the seedlings. What do you think, Lucien?”

I nod. “Sounds like a plan, Henry.”

I’m so relieved I don’t even bother to ask what happened to the money.

Kristine Simelda was born in the US and has been a citizen of the Eastern Caribbean island of Dominica for the past twenty-five years. She is the author of three novels, a novella, two novels and a collection of short stories for young adults, as well as numerous works of published short fiction. Her debut novel, A Face in the River, was launched in 2015 by her imprint River Ridge Press Dominica and followed by the sequel, River of Fire in 2016. Nobody Owns the Rainbow is her latest work of Caribbean fiction. All are available from in paperback and e-book as well as selected bookstores. Kristine currently lives on the edge of the rainforest where she writes, farms, and feeds large dogs. Her website is




Ana Portnoy Brimmer

Backyard burial

“We’re finding dead people, people who have
been buried, [people] have made common graves […]
We’ve been told people have buried their family members
because they’re in places that have yet to be reached.”1

Dandelions sprouted from the splitting skin on the tip of her toes
                                  the grime snug between flesh and nail 
when I realized no one was coming

Five days had passed and my mother       
an oxygen-masked ghost at the flickering menace of a bulb 
                                                    grew garden-bed of chamomile and clover

No wailing sirens curled up the mountain    only wailing    
No machete-wielding rescue team    only my desperate swings to 
                                          clear a patch of welcoming ground 
No emergency funeral procession     only candles to drag her mossing 
                                          mound through humid darkness 
No relief helicopters on my driveway or half-a-roof    only overhead   like vultures circling                      
                                                         the dying with no promise of swoop devouring release 

I dug up a hole in the backyard    next to the flattened chicken coop
                                                 smell of damp rotting and excrement 
cleared slabs of zinc    branches   vine-choked fence   
and waited 

for a voice 
a footstep 
the slam of a car door 

the dull thump of my mother’s body on hollowed wet earth 

1 The poem’s epigraph is a quote from the following article, “Hurricane Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico is higher than official count, experts say”, by Omaya Sosa Pascual, published in the Miami Herald.  

A plea to Puerto Rico after hurricane María

All I have left is
spit and duct-tape
(and my spit is running dry)--
I will lick your wooden splinters into a house
        a salve to soothe the down-hill gash where it used to be
wrap your snapped trees whole again
             patch up the leak in your sky  
             your bleeding shore--
my tear-ducts    wells close to empty but 
I’ll cry your containers 
        in shaky hands full
fill your tired tanks to the top 
        drop by drop 
my hands have nothing to hold nothing
        to lose              let me             
cup your forced nakedness       hold 
our weeping people
        refugees in their own land
just give me a drink of water
a crumb to feast on
and tell me I can stay

This is not paradise

waters death-scented     chained corpses undulating to undercurrents  
waves whipping wildly  lunging layers of landscape suffocating the     
weed glass and bottle caps    coconut missiles  palm projectiles  river branch bullets   aiming for
heads bobbing  hearts throbbing       because it’s all too beautiful
sun scorching scalps  blinding sockets      raindrops like army rockets drilling dents
into towel sprawled burning bodies        opening their mouths to say 
                  This is-      
         not what you think    these are not golden sands translucent waters and lush greens    this is not the place for flowered shirts    this is not sunshine and clear skies    this is not summer year-long    this is not a travel brochure    this is not a worry-free weekend    this is not a coconut-scented fantasy    this is not piña coladas and daiquiris    this is not yoga by the beach    this is not sun-bathing and cabana boy service    this is not made-in-china sarongs and beaded braids              
                  But this is-
         not your family summer    this is not those good old times    this is not like that movie you once saw     this is not an exotic getaway    this is not a tropical utopia    this is not an all-inclusive (exclusive of everyone except yourself)    this is not island life    this is not seaside living    this is not horseback riding by the shore    this is not sunsets and sangrias    this is not salsa, merengue, reggae and calypso all day every day  
                  Oh, this is-
         not a selfie-moment    this is not springbreak 2017    this is not a the-Island-in-a-day bus tour    this is not a romantic niche    this is not the-people-who-live-here-are-so-lucky    this is not your spa week    this is not an ocean clean of history    these are not fields free from memory    this is not a land unscarred by time    this is not a people of sunshine and amnesia    this is not an invitation    this is not yours this is not yours this is not yours this is not yours this is not yours this is not yours this is your dream
sandcastles     tourist skin sizzles and crackles   
you better put on more of that barbecue-block to   
protect you from the               truth                          is that                                this is not paradise

Ana Portnoy Brimmer is a Puerto Rican poet-performer, writer and ARTivist. She holds a BA and an MA in English from the University of Puerto Rico, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Rutgers University-Newark. She is the inaugural recipient of the Sandra Cisneros Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a co-organizer of the #PoetsForPuertoRico movement. Ana is also a Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation fellow, an Under The Volcano fellow, a Las Dos Brujas Writing Workshop alumna, and an inaugural Moko Writers’ Workshop alumna. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Foundry Journal, Sx Salon, Huizache, Kweli Journal, Centro Journal, among others. For more on her work, visit




Shivanee Ramlochan

La Criatura Handfasts the Forest

for Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné

She took a husband on the riverbank
after casting for his hearth tarot
through the coppice of his leaves.

Wayward she born,
bush delivered and sudden like
leaping moray tail slicing current.

Let no man say she never knew
what she wanted, or grew unable
to track her mate by the swells of Matelot.

She took him by the branch,
charting the progression of her sons
in his aspect of bayleaf and tamarind.

She knew him by his ease, by
the light in his forests that let in
all her several sisters:

solstice fox | pinnacle egret | the swan
who kept seasons by the shiver of wings
against the woman’s naked breast,

She knew her husband by the way all his
trees whispered, shy:
Bring me your creatures. Those you saved

from chainsaw and gravel hunger, from instrument
of collar and clamour and human want:
I have homes for them in me.

Relentless she chose, and married him with a silver leap,
claiming the residence that vetivered her wild skin,
knotting wedding rings like balata hearts in her palms.

That Barbaric Light

for Kriston Chen

I woke with the island making a new animal in me. 
I paid for the pirogue with my last bandage, stripped 
and cured it over the boatwoman’s cloven hoof. 
She dipped the oar, and the waters parted like bush
bracing for flambeau. She stroked the secret of my name
between the tines of her smile, slivering it for profit.

I went to the island because the animal asked me. 
One foot on Chacachacare, the boatwoman at my back,
I felt the old colony growl in welcome. Something creaked,
backbone or floorboard. Someone spoke, duenne or baptized. 
I raised my eyes to the coiled hair of the forest.
I read for promises in the inhuman tracks under my feet.

When I scaled the dying hospital, the animal followed. 
It spread wings over the bedposts,
cast the roof of its shelter beneath the abbey skylight.
Claw and palm, we muscled the darkness with an ancient nativity. 

I gave my sight for the animal’s eyes, my tongue for the animal’s song,
my pulse so the animal might make an island of me.


for Anu Lakhan

there, at the bitten entrance of the island,
your skirt stripping itself back to switchgrass, 
you found the cure. You pulled the fletched arrow
from your lung, cast it deep,
watched it spread out in a sharp net, splintering.

there, fishing like this,
you seined up the cure for one year, and one night. You
balanced it in your pierced lungs, packing it for the hills. You
took the mountain by her hair,
roved her til you compassed up. 

there, in the notch-bordered jugular of the island,
you bathed the horses with the cure,
lavished them golden in the desert light, flecks of home
flying between your hair, the mountain’s, and theirs.

Photo credit: Marlon James

Shivanee Ramlochan is a Trinidadian book blogger, critic and poet. Her debut collection, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting (Peepal Tree Press, 2017) was a finalist for the 2018 People’s Choice T&T Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the 2018 Felix Dennis Forward Prize for Best First Collection.




Juleus Ghunta

Mother Suffered From Memories

When she was fourteen
she fled Kendal on a market truck to Kingston.

The night blew air in her wounds.

She forgave grandma, then a single mother of six,
who fed her children with one hand
while choking them with the other.

The day her practised palm cracked my cheekbone,
I crawled into grief.

When I blamed her for my inability to love,
she reminded me of “the simple brokenness of [everybody]…
[the] lie of mothering…things we can’t rely on….”

These days her knees are falling apart
from years of bending to raise us up into dreams.

I no longer seek penitence for the beatings,
shaming, neglect–

mother suffered from memories.

The quote comes from Kwame Dawes’ poem Mother and Child.

Juleus Ghunta is a Jamaican poet and recipient of a Chevening Scholarship. He recently earned an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, UK. Ghunta’s poetry has appeared in several journals including The Missing Slate, Moko, Spillway, Chiron Review, Cordite 81: New Caribbean Writing, and In This Breadfruit Kingdom. He was awarded the Catherine James Poetry Prize by Interviewing the Caribbean in 2017. In 2015 and 2016 he was shortlisted for the Small Axe Poetry Prize. His picture book, Tata and the Big Bad Bull, was published by CaribbeanReads in May 2018 and launched in June 2018 at Bradford Literature Festival, UK. He is currently finalising the manuscript for his second picture book, Rohan Bullkin Learns to Read.




Soyini Forde

Underside of Knowing

Branches draped elegiac,
possessive as lovers.

Everywhere the sun.
Lip of the horizon

split by teal sea. You’ve sewn me
up again, helped tuck twice-wound

ends away. ​Attend to my bruise garden:
cyclic, coiled stitches. Hands rooting

near the last caterwauling,
you reopened a rip unable

to mend.​ ​You said,​ We call
dat ol’ man’s beard

Much better than
Spanish moss,
I marvelled,

it gives trees
the wisdom they deserve.

My heart’s eye wide at the bark’s resignation
its acceptance of consequences.

When I think of a small mercy,
this sweet morsel forms on my tongue.

After Buju’s Love Sponge Since I was Never One

I said I didn’t want to be that, a poet who whines about love, wines for love, grinding gyrations pestle-heavy, thigh-drunk. My wild waist; you, hemmed by riddims. Slipknots of breath unwound from us. We were dark silhouettes on a wall. I preferred you not lyrically shooting batty bwoys, sounding death and damnation. Savoured open-throated moans clamouring, laughs bursting like ripe plums. What strains at the seam, scuttles out from memory’s trapdoor is this: years later, Buju entrapped in Babylon, and you, telling me how you nearly forgot, but your voice broke into a gravelly chant when the bassline dropped, never know you woulda really feel so nice. Stovetop you lit, pot you coaxed me into, glinting flanks you kept gnawing from—what would not be severed from bones. Your mouth is a nest of marabuntas, every sunken stinger’s anchor dragging me back.

Soyini Ayanna Forde is half Trini, half Guyanese and all diaspora. She has work in MokoSmall Axe, Apogee, Cleaver, and elsewhere. Her writing was deemed a notable essay in Best American Essays and nominated for a Pushcart. Her poetry chapbook, Taste of Hibiscus, is available from Dancing Girl Press. A graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program, she currently lives in Florida and blogs about West Indian culture, race, and occasionally, her love life at