As a man: How men help men cry
Last year, around this time, Owen 'Blakka' Ellis' debut poetry book Riddim & Riddles was launched at Redbones Blues Cafe in New Kingston.
One of the standout poems of the collection is 'At Aunty's Funeral', a poem rich in Jamaican fabric, about the experience of being at the final send-off for his aunt who raised him with a very strong tongue.
Shortly after the launch, Tony 'Paleface' Hendriks read the poem at Peppers nightclub on Upper Waterloo Road, St Andrew, during last year's inaugural Late Night Lit and it was a riot. The poem is packed with the fabric that Ellis' aunt daubed him and others with so liberally, and the audience loved it. The roars of laughter were continuous, peaking into howls at particularly expressive moments.
Then I saw Blakka read the poem during a 'long bench' talk with Dr Michael Abrahams at the University of the West Indies Mona, hosted by Blue Moon Publishing (which published Riddim & Riddles), and it was one of the saddest things I have ever witnessed personally.
Blakka is not a large person (although he does not shy away from telling the women at comedy shows that he is short of nothing), but as he read the poem it was as if he shrunk a little into himself.
The 'claats' rolled out as they are written on the page, but not many people (if any) in the audience snickered.
NOT A MOCKERY OF TRAUMA
The readings of 'At Aunty's Funeral' by Blakka and Paleface were as different as night and day (pun intended). But anyone who would think that Hendriks was taking Ellis' pain lightly and making a mockery of his trauma would be terribly mistaken. In his reading, Hendriks was doing what men do for other men in their times of extreme grief - he was helping his friend cry.
For while women gather around their wounded sister and hold her hand as she has a good weeping session after the death of a loved one, or a love affair, men go to check their brethren with a bottle and a belly laugh. Sometimes the male approach to helping a man cry silently may seem callous - he has just found out that his wife of many years has taken up with a lad who is younger than their son, driving what was supposed to be the couple's criss car all over town with the big ooman in a miniskirt dancing to 'way up, stay up'. What does the man say to the freshly made cuckold?
Something like: "Bway John, me see Marge a club whey night wid har muscle man. It look like say de age paypa bun up. Yu haffi start go gym fi get ar back. Me can see yu inna one black tights now a do Pilates."
And John just shakes his head and chuckles, there is laughter all around and the pain is eased.
When Blakka entrusted Paleface with reading his poem, I believe it was exactly this kind of bona fide brethren trust in him making the trauma tolerable - that was the objective, which was achieved.
Men help men cry all the time. It just looks like joking and even callousness.