New Skin For the Old Ceremony

by angeliska on April 19, 2004

As the ceremony lasted until past four in the morning,
 we were sadly unable to make our date for the rodeo,
and ventured out into the swamp instead.
 An afternoon idyll under the branches
in the Crane Garden, a secret place V. found
between the train tracks and a lonely highway
 in the absolute middle of gorgeous nowhere.

 We lounged lazily in by banks of wild irises,
 under stands of willow and cypress
with several bottles of wine, good cheese and biscuits
 strawberries, pears and gingersnaps.

  Giant blue and green dragonflies
    darted hither and thither,
 lighting on bare shoulders and parasols..

Bands of ruby throated hummingbirds dove in,
flicking their wings in our locks-
 Did you know they eat only
the bluest eyes? Well, it’s true..

Dodging ominous snake-holes
and spit-shine scarlet wasps with yellow legs
until one of the party says,
 “Umm..Hey you guys…
What kind of creature do you suppose
 made these tracks here?”
  Why, an alligator- of course!
 Deep scoring claw-marks
in the rich black mud-
perfectly distinct and
quite disturbing in their clarity.

As they sun set we spied on masses
of the strangest grasshoppers-
Congregating in great numbers
bitty black and red like tiny machines
mating and chewing everything to bits.
This place is a home for
aristocratic hobgoblins;
an antediluvian playground
for all manner of prehistoric beast-
It would not shock you
in the least to see a dinosaur lumbering
out from the silvery muck
as the light fails,
but best run quickly on the path-
it is dark now, and the horseflies
are not the only thing
out for your blood.

We are gathered in our white garments,
awaiting the arrival of the Haitian royalty-
 When they come, singing and drumming
welcome them, and their voices raise in response-
“Onè e tout wespè pou tout petit Ginea-yo a nom Bondje e tout lwa-yo!”
The women are truly the most regal
in bearing I have ever seen- Queens, indeed.
 The sound of their voices raised in song,
the drums and the night-sounds
reverberating off  the corrugated tin roof
thrums in your back and hips-
Your body remembers the movements for you-
your bare feet in the dust lift
of their own accord and carry you forward-

Azaka beckons me, come closer-
 His eyes are wide and he gesticulates
and shouts to me in Kreyol,
 “You! Come here, now!”
 He scoops lentil and squash stew
from a gourd and shoves his large
 fingers into my mouth-
feeding me like a child..
 My head is grasped in his large hands
and he bends my entire body back like a reed,
 blowing a fine mist of rum on my neck and chest.
 He cups my hands into a bowl and spits rum into the hollow.
 All the while, the lwa talks to me- but no one translates his words.
 Then he calls for my sister, and the manbo asks, “Are you twins?”
 We smile and shake our heads..

I can still taste the Florida water on his fingers..

The Fredas come to be wed, wrapped in pink
 and hissing, moaning and twittering like birds.
  Their dainty feet are never to touch the ground,
 so white cloths are dragged wherever they wander.
 When all the men have been kissed and later,
when the wedding is commenced
 rosepetals and pink champagne sprays
the virgin boys, who stand identically-
self- restrained, their arms locked behind
  nervous and excited..
 Agwe appears with oar and conchshell horn,
 making whale sounds and swaying,
 an ocean embodied, housed in flesh..
 And Ogun Badagris, to the martial beat
 face wild with fury, machete alive with blue flame-
 he smashes his face repeatedly with the blade
and bends it on his chest in a display of machismo.
 Sparks fly and he grabs you and makes you hop
 back and forth over the burning machete,
to show your own.
  Afterwards the beautiful Haitian boy who had
 been smiling broadly at me all night
while keeping a constant rhythm
with a stick and empty bottle
 approaches to talk as I am leaving,
asking my name and telling me we have met before..
 So much for my bachelor bravado-
 I am far too timid and coweringly slink away..

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