Poem by Janine Shand

• October 2019

ear say

Never say a child is heavy—only dead people are heavy.

If grandpa weren’t a starch, weren’t a crisp-starch-shirt-pen-in-pocket-square-wearing, Anglican, church-going man, he mightn’t have minded the drums. Might have minded the stranger who arranged the wake, a man not his son or daughter.

 

He and his pocket squares were too much for the home. The man needed special food, not the rice and beans they make too wet for easy swallowing, with no dollop of golden ray, extra tongue-numbing sodium for kicks. The man got spoilt by his granddaughters. They brought him boxed goods from the Chinese place ’round the corner. Bag smelt of spicy oyster sauce, seeped through the box, fountain running of browning, made for a cone pool at the corner of the bag. I feel sure when the granddaughters left, after they promised more special food for him on their next visit—though one would not see him again alive—he brought that bag to his greyed mouth, bit into the corner, drained the brown pool into his cottonmouth.

 

If you want to see a spirit, put wax from a dog’s eye into yours.

“Drums does bring bad spirits, jumbie and ting,” she said. She was one half of the duo who bore the special food to the old person’s home, the half who lived under grandpa’s roof built by his hands, brought into Christian white light, saved by grandpa himself. We caught the dregs of her anxiety over the drums—the American-raised half of the duo and me—two other granddaughters, not raised in the house built by the grandfather. Felt the unease of the quiet rage that could not shake our grandpa’s thin heavy frame. He was heavy in death. With only the delivered granddaughter to be weary for him and two foreign-raised daughters of his daughter to be weary for her weariness.

 

Always turn your back to the inside of the house when opening the door at night.
That way the spirits that have followed you home will see your face and will not enter.

The drums carried us up: saved ahead, foreign-raised two paces behind. Lunged up the paved path, the cemetery a stadium stacked hill, tombs on tombs of weathered white, gray, and beige headstones, each an ornament piercing the land, cake-toppers marking each deceased.

 

The man who was not his son or daughter drummed, sang songs of Christian or folk-based faith, pelted his voice out to the party, the stones, the hill, the bar-filled streets below, the city dump beyond the fence.

 

Earth is broken open by dull shovels, black men with black dreads talk shit to each other, playing the ass, small talk, rough talk, men talk among sobs, whispers, and maljeux between grandpa’s daughters.

 

The saved one’s shoulder shake, the other half who brought him the food holds them still.

 

A snake is found among the fresh earth. The saved does not think to mention what this could mean. The dread man severed the head with the tip of the shovel, scooped it up to toss over the neighboring fence, into the dump.

 

The smell of wet garbage and wet soil mixed in the air.

 

Drums, tears, and song long stopped. Only talk would be the men, brisk talk to make the job go faster. We watched without attachment, even the saved one stopped shaking.

 

Yuh have to pick up three stones, little pebbles, like so.

Those who did not drive their car up the hill made the trot down. A leaning, languid gait, a something not familiar to a funeral procession.

 

When yuh walking down, yuh must throw the pebbles behind you.

Foreign-raised did as the saved advised. Not familiar with island rules of funeral engagement, not readily able to pick out and refer to old tell tales, grandma’s village stories to scare you to sleep.

 

One

She had lost her tears. We followed her, picking the smallest of earth.

 

by

The other half tossed the stones back together in one go, nearly hitting a truck the dread men momentarily circled around, drinking beers, payment for their services.

 

one.

A few stones apiece flew behind me.
No jumbie should follow me beyond the cemetery.
The saved one’s younger brother sucked his teeth at the sight of the stones flying. “Don’t listen to she,” he chastised.

 

The dreads followed another dread, a man among our party, slim suited, tall and contagious, gold glittering from his neck. Fibbing to him for money, anything to lend them something for a drink or two. 

 

“One for the next set,” they chorused. 

 

And don’t look back.

 

Born and raised in South Florida, Janine Ariel Shand is a current MFA candidate at Florida Atlantic University. Janine is the youngest of three children born to Trinidadian parents. She is the sole child birthed on American soil, something her parents never fail to remind her of. 

 

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