Project Description


Columbus was said to have touched down
on the pink sand and for once left

without leaving a mark. Later Puritan Pilgrims
formed a precarious settlement, named the island

Eleuthera from the Greek word for “Freedom.”
What do these facts mean to me who

sat, a child left alone in Mrs. Green’s
boarding house just off the coast road

of Govenor’s harbor? I fell into a fever
and lay all morning on her stiff brown couch

with a light sheet, plaid and worn almost
translucent, tucked over my knees.

Wind soughed in sea pines, and the girl
next door brought me squashed guavas,

tamarinds and a handful of sea grapes,
pale pale sweetness, and I read a story

about a missionary family in China,
and in the book the girl read by a coal fire

in Peking while snow drifted narrow roads.
We go again to the deep North of the imagination

where a sick child, a missing mother. All stories
are colonial by nature. A landscape secunded,

an exile, a parting. Mrs. Green boiled custard
in the hot dark kitchen behind the stairs where,

in the morning, mist stretched its white fingers
through the hallway which smelled of bleach—

she kept it so clean you could eat off the floor.
Outside, the thin blood of hibiscus flower,

moths that pelted the porch bulb in the evenings.
She let me sleep downstairs because climbing

might make me dizzy, but solitude bloomed
into a greater height. I stepped out onto

the high street, gleaming in the afternoon
light. In Bahamian you speak of what it is

“to jook yourself” meaning “to be cut open”—
your foot by a splinter, your chest by a knife.

I had learned this word on our tough asphalt
playground, but that morning another sense grew—

I was jooked by the bay, the calm turquoise
waters. and the darker patches of almost-violet,

indigo, cerulean, and the men who pulled
the splintered pirogues up against the wharf to sell

the veined-thick meat of conch, which some fried
over steel drums. This is a colonial story. I am

a white child in a cotton dress. Mrs. Green
takes me by the hand. She does not ask why

she must care for me all week—cook me custard
and broth and Jello in neat quivering cubes.

She does what she does well, but her face
when she turns to look down at me is shuttered

with stories I will never be told. Eleuthera
it feels like freedom to be born into a world

so estranged, and the rich veins of her story
or mine, almost hidden, but glinting out

like the fading sunlight on the tall stucco houses
where the governors lived, those colonials

still taking tea in their iron-fenced yards,
while behind the lava rock, the pothole farmers,

that land so recently settled, still opening
flower-like to the broad pool of the ocean.

The Miracle of Vanishing

You made yourself disappear and now
you are returning. Of course, you miss
the rigor of those days—the luminous
berry on the plate, the dry rice-cake,
hunger a sword cut through you and how
you let it enter, your skin a cellophane.
You tell me your heart stopped twice;
the second time they used the defibrillator.
I recognize this as myth—like the myth
of the girl who turned herself into a laurel tree.
Or was it the angry God who did that?
What storms through the synapses
of your brain? What shrank or grew?
You practice poses now that hold you
to solid ground: Downward Dog, the Crane,
Sun Salutation. The hardest is the Full Plate—
so bursting with flavors, each one like
a new season. I understand when you
tell me how you ran on empty, the road
like those mirages we used to see in the desert,
always the shining water, pools spreading,
until you got closer, and there was nothing.

Sheila Black

Sheila Black lives in Texas, where she directs the literary arts center Gemini Ink, and has published four books of poetry, most recently Iron, Ardent, from Educe Press of Montana. She has co-edited two anthologies—Beauty is a Verb: the New Poetry of Disability, and The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked: the Fiction of Disability, both from Cinco Puntos Press. She is the recipient of a Frost-Pellicer Frontera Prize and a Witter Bynner Fellowship, and her work appears widely, including in, and The New York Times.