Reflections on Jamaica’s heritage
As a student at the St Andrew High School for Girls, on a certain bench at lunchtime on a certain part of the compound, goose bumps would take me, and you couldn't tell me otherwise that my ancestors weren't under my feet.
Jamaica had plantations before our times, so it is not strange that many of the places we have trodden, our slave and slave master ancestors also did.
We have heroes who fought for Universal adult Suffrage, but we also have heroes who fought for our freedom from slavery. Very often, right before and during Heritage Week, I dwell on our slave ancestors and think of the unsung heroes among them and also those we know about.
These poems are from my second book, Kingston Buttercup (Peepal Tree Press: 2016). They explore the slave heritage with which we are still in dialogue.
Tunnels & Echoes, similar to Echoes in the Bone: Testimonials, explores that phenomenon, that reality of history as memory, since our genes bear our ancestors' experiences.
In Tunnel & Echoes, my claustrophobia stems from the time my predecessor was packed like sardines in a ship, locked in a dungeon, beaten and left to die for punishment.
These poems, I hope, remind us of where we are coming from, the heroes who were and are in us.
Echoes in the Bone: Testimonials
Before I be a slave, I'll skip over my grave
And go home to my Fadder and be free.
- Clancy Eccles
I: High School Girl:
Under the Poinciana
On the bench at school
The eye surveys the unlevelled field
The unpainted wall
Separating one school from another,
and goose bumps come
As the ancestors tell
How the rickety wooden boxes
We use for club meetings
Remind of their living quarters
Thatched roofs in lieu of wood;
how below the staffroom
Was the black room
They were thrown in.
II: Pregnant Woman:
Driving through a cane piece
In St Catherine at night
The ancestors tell me
Of a storm of backramassas
Flattening the grass girls in the fields.
As my guts spew
A line of Royal Palm reminds
Of the Great House above,
The bend of the black neck below.
Tunnels & Echoes
We approach a tunnel,
and when we're in,
my head swivels to the light.
When I lose sight of it
I shut my eyes and hope for sleep,
Bury my head in Randold's arm.
I fear dark spaces like tunnels
Ram- packed Coaster buses;
I explain on my way to Merida
Where tunnels cut through mountains.
We came over in blackness
Darker than any you fear being trapped in,
Darker than the marrow this memory tunnels.
And in dark spaces time collapses
Travels back ...