Gifts for the Girl

There is a girl inside

There is a girl inside.
She is randy as a wolf.
She will not walk away and leave these bones
to an old woman.

She is a green tree in a forest of kindling.
She is a green girl in a used poet.

She has waited patient as a nun
for the second coming,
when she can greak through gray hairs
into blossom

and her lovers will harvest
honey and thyme
and the woods will be wild
with the damn wonder of it.

                                       — Lucille Clifton


Years ago I co-taught a creative writing class for 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders in an afterschool program.*  We did a lot of different activities with the kids to get them to see that it was ok to play with writing, to think of language as this cool tool they could use in so many different ways.

One of the activities we did was called, “My Wild Me.”  Each child got a small booklet that was mostly blank, but which had descriptive prompts: “My wild me acts like …” “My wild me always …” “My wild me likes to …”  That sort of thing.  We had a lot of fun with it.  I was happy to see that the kids had no problem getting in immediate touch with their wildness, that they had no hesitation about describing themselves as monsters and animals and mythical beings with super powers. 

This Clifton poem always makes me think of that group and that writing exercise.  Sharing a month of Clifton poems has been a wild experience for me.  She touches so many parts of my experience, my heart, me.  Reading and reading and reading through her work to choose poems for this month has been such a vivid pleasure.  I had to resist including the poem that led me to her because I wanted to share less well known pieces.  But thirty days doesn’t give me enough room.  There were so many other poems I would have loved to share.  But this month of reading has been a gift — sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes painful, always amazing.

And then I came home from work last night (after that wonderful time of working with the teen theater group, after dinner out with my co-worker and some giddy planning for our Cayman Islands trip) and checked my email.  Checked my email and found a gift I would never have expected: I’ve won a free week at a gorgeous, beyond-my-means villa in my little corner of Jamaica!  No, really.  I entered a raffle — all proceeds go to the scholarship fund for local kids to go to high school — and I won!

My wild me, that girl inside, is dancing and screaming and singing and laughing.  She is shaking her too-fine hair and already feeling the sun on her skin, the sea washing over her toes.

At some point in the next year, I — along with (I hope) my mother and sister — will be staying here:

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I’m still having a hard time knowing this is true, that I have actually won this excellent prize and all the perks that come along with it.

Into my open hands,
like a glistening Blue Morpho
this enormous, beautiful YES lands
lightly, quietly, just so
perfectly. Shock and joy interweave
and accept, happily receive.


*  No, now isn’t the time to examine what a crazy move it was for me — Queen of Not Knowing the First Thing about Working with Children — to have taken on this job.  Now isn’t the time to talk about how completely those children ran over me.  We are only focusing on the good, on the fact that they were lovely kids and — despite having to work with me — they actually produced some lovely writing.

Still Jonesin’

Yesterday’s post reminded me that I hadn’t finished putting up pictures from my trip.

P1020955So, ‘my’ part of Jamaica is a string of fishing villages that have turned themselves into a tourist destination.  In October, over the course of Heroes Weekend (mid-month), they host a fishing tournament that includes boat races and a who-can-drink-a-Red-Stripe-fastest contest and other funny business.  This trip was the first time I was down in October, so of course I went to the tournament.  Here are a few quick-takes from the final day. 


There were a few different soccer games underway when I arrived.  I was in a growing crowd of people on shore waiting for the last of the fishermen to come back so we could see if anyone had caught anything to top the 4o-pounder that had been caught on day two.

P1020952P1020953P1020988I love how in his own world the boy in the first two photos is … but I was also a little distressed by how he kept disappearing between the boats.  I was sure he was going to be hurt, but he was fine.  It’s a different child in the last picture.  I just liked the way his position in relationship to the boat makes me think of the word ‘longing.’  Definitely a feeling I can relate to!

 P1020961Here’s another shot of Kenrick, who is somewhat annoyingly camera shy (says the woman who is painfully camera shy).  Whenever he saw me raise my camera, he turned away.  The few pictures I caught of him were all from far away so he wouldn’t know I was stealing his image. 

P1020960And then there’s this man, who I don’t know at all, but I was fascinated by how much he reminded me of the actor who played Omar on The Wire.  I suspect Omar would like this part of Jamaica (lots of pretty, light-skinned young men) … though I’m not sure Jamaica would be too crazy about Omar!  (Digression: saying that about Omar reminded me of a young woman I met at the conference on Tuesday.  She was telling us about her work (researcher) and said, “Black men are my main focus.”  It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and not let everyone at the table know that my main focus is black men, too!)


P1020964P1020965This is Ted, one of the boatmen who gives water tours.  I was just snapping photos, not really paying attention (waiting for my next chance to try catching Kenrick), and when I looked back through my photos at the end of the day, I really liked this trio.  I love the look of the boy in the second and third photo, love the way Ted is lifting him so casually, so easily, as if he weighs no more than a handful of seawater!

P1020967P1020966P1020969The first photo is Ted’s boat, Di Evil Tings, another of my favorite boat names.  It’s Ted again in the second two shots, maybe practicing for the boat races, maybe just showing off a little because we were all wanting to see a little action while we waited for those last fishermen.  Either way, I find this one of the coolest (and scariest) things the boatmen do.  I’ve been in one of these boats when it’s been up out of the water in a similar way … and my heart was in my throat the whole time!

P1020968So, as I was saying about Omar … this man is a bit old for Omar’s taste, but you get the idea.  I don’t know who this man is, but his clothes interested me.  I am naive enough to continue to be surprised by how certain parts of American culture are adopted (and adapted) in other countries.  I’m not sure I want to see my students and their friends running around with this adaptation of the low-slung pants, but I’d be happy if my students and their friends stopped running around with any of the more familiar versions!


 I might have found this guy interesting … if he had done anything more than sit beside me and stare at me.  For a LONG time.  Finally I asked if I could take his picture.  He seemed surprised, wanted to know why I wanted his picture.  I went for honesty: “You’re just sitting here staring at me, I figure I should get something out of it, too.”  He thought about it for a minute, then agreed to let me take his picture.  This is his serious, picture-taking face.  And, yes, this face looks just like the other expressions he tried out before settling on this one.  I once heard Sting say that everyone has three expressions (and he then went on to show that he, in fact, only had two) … well, this guy seems to have only one.

P1020975And finally here is a fisherman bringing in his big catch.  This wasn’t the first prize fish, but it was plenty big enough for me.  In the background is the El Tazar (the red boat).  That’s the boat that caught the winning fish.

Sadly, by the time the fishing prizes and trophies were awarded and the boat races were won, it was so late I started back for the house.  So I didn’t get to see the beer drinking contest or any of the other funny bits.  Maybe next year!

On a cold November night … *

Tonight is quite chilly, enough for me to be a bit shivery waiting for the bus home after class, enough for me to pull on my gloves and wish I had a hat.

And that’s ok.  It certainly isn’t COLD or anything, but my body isn’t happy with this.  All I can think of is:


and of how obvious it is that I am supposed to be standing on some beach in Jamaica and not on a Flatbush Avenue corner shivering at a bus stop.  Alas.


* Alternate title: “And I had doubts about AC’s proposal because why?”

One day soon …

… I’ll stop posting pictures from my trip.  But that day isn’t today. 

No plants today.  Today is all for the birds.  I felt so lucky to catch that doctor bird at the house, but I was having so much trouble getting photos of any other  kind of bird.  Along ‘my’ beach — the one closest to the house — I got to see lots of birds, but most made my work hard.  I’m not sufficiently skilled to know how to catch good shots of birds in flight, and the birds insisted on flying all the time.  Ther nerve!

I did get a few mostly-in-focus shots of some flyers, however:


And then, on my last day on the beach, I got lucky.  First there was this guy: P1030094


My little bit of research tells me that this is a Royal Tern.  He sat out there for quite a while letting me take his picture again and again.  And then he decided to phone a friend to share the photo op.




The last of my feathered friends swooped past my perch on the steps and landed in the shade under a tree nearby.

P1030099P1030101P1030102I don’t know what this one is.  I made a lucky guess with the royal tern and Google Images confirmed it.  Anyone have an idea what kind of bird this is?  I like her fawn-like spots.  I also like that she stayed near me for so long.  She didn’t seem to be paying me the least bit of attention.  She hung out in the shade for a while, then went strolling along the shoreline.

P1030135P1030136P1030137Maybe next time I’ll catch that little humming bird I found eating the cactus fruit!

Achin’ for Acres

P1030057No more elders passin’
without my kids askin’ —
“Papa, whose tombstones are those in the yard?”
Family gotta stay close,
all us gotta stay close …

— Arrested Development, Achin’ for Acres

The first time I heard this Arrested Development song, I thought: tombstones in the yardReally?  I don’t think so!  But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve, well … thought about it, and thought about how much this makes sense.  Why wouldn’t you want to bury your dead close to you?  And as the song makes plain, you can’t do that if you don’t own the land you live on.  My landlords are lovely people, but I can’t imagine they’d have been too thrilled if I had suggested digging up the back garden so I could keep my aunt close.

When I went to Jamaica, I started seeing small sections on people’s property sectioned off in some way or other and then noticed that these sectioned-off bits were personal cemeteries.  At first I was a little taken aback, but no more.  I actually find something warm and comforting in this idea.  Why should you have to pay crazy amounts of money to have your loved ones buried among strangers?  Why should you have to follow someone else’s timetable in order to visit a gravesite?  And cemeteries are rarely conveniently located.  Why should I have to travel for hours to sit with my father, his parents, Mildred, her mother?

P1030056This particular burial place was a surprise to me.  It’s at the edge of a beach and doesn’t immediately seem connected to anyone’s home.  My guess is that this bit of land, which is at the base of a hill, sits below the family home.

P1030072This is a gorgeous place to rest.  Shaded by several kinds of flowering trees (including Lignum Vitae, the national tree of Jamaica), facing a quiet beach and the open sea.

Every time I’m in Jamaica, I think of Achin’ for Acres, think about the meaning of family land, of having your own piece of earth and being able to pass that on to the family that comes after you. 

Got land to stand on,
then you can stand up,
stand up for your rights as a woman, as a man.
Man, oh man, my choices expand.
Ain’t got me no money, but I got me some land.