Four Poems


Jerome L. McElroy

Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame IN

Copyright © 1999 by Jerome L. McElroy, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

These poems are memories collected from two stints teaching in colonial Caribbean societies, British Honduras (Belize today) and the U. S. Virgin Islands. Three concern the meeting of North and South, emphasize dissonance, and suggest there's always something significant, if unseen, occurring beneath the surface. "Cacophony" humorously focuses on cultural clash and youthful resistance to religious imperialism. "Hector" underlines different perceptions: the idealism of the missionary educator versus the realism of life and opportunity in a society in rapid transition. "The Preacher" reveals the beauty that often surfaces in brokenness, particularly in human communication when facades fall. "Transitions" dwells on the enduring imprint of primal experiences.


They called him Rawti surreptitiously,
'Red Crab' in island creolese,
the blanco from the north,
sentinel of Roman rule.
Proctoring the Friday Mass
on the only coast on earth
where school boys sang too loud
was his crucible.
Pacing the aisles with folded
arms and rifle eyes like
a sergeant insensed, his cold
stares extinguished brush fires
during the preliminaries.
Suppressing the potential trifecta
disaster of the closing anthem was
the real razor's edge-
to modulate four hundred pearl
divers' sons this side of volcano,
and detour simultaneously
a chapel-rocking side-to-side
calypso, then squelch descent
to reggae when percussive pews
and kneelers erased any trace
of Gregorian decorum.
The fore-sleeves of his cassock
shredded by the weekly sweat
suggested Rawti rarely won
and worse, never understood
why their Friday voices died
the Sunday after graduation.

On an island outpost
colonial moons ago
where imperial sunsets
died indelibly
I saw light
in Hector's eyes
even from that
last back seat of
first-year composition.
It danced when
his pen point flashed
bananaquits like butterflies,
and lightning barracuda
after sprat, and foamy
streams lost and found
hiking deep between
the lesser foothills
lacing the Antilles.
He found splendour
even in the soundless
aftermath of cyclones,
'like a shroud of
prelapsarian air.'
An open sewage canal
that cross-hatched
the neighborhood was
his Venetian festival.
When I returned
from London later
after independence
the play across his face
was unremarkable.
What triptych transformed
the export-import king-
a scholarship postponed,
an unexpected tryst,
success too soon with
spreadsheet margins overseas?
The glint was gone despite
the flange of brass
accoutrements untouched
where the ink well was.
His right hand seemed
too comfortable fingering
the ledger. I failed to note
the crucifix around
his neck was missing
like my Roman collar.
Shadows of mahogany
breathing down the walls
dimmed our conversation
until we disengaged
he more easily than I
even after all these years.

His first summer after ordination
Was an agony. All the demons
Of past catastrophies festered
In his stomach, locked his jaws
And warped his lips awry.
He stammered at the altar
Sometimes so relentlessly
Ulcers blistered just anticipating.
Yet each day the village faithful
Climbed the steep valley shanks,
Their ragged wraps no defense
Against the dank dawn.
Patiently they waited after gospel
Fragments stumbled from his tongue
Unable to fathom the surprising
Fluency to come.
He spoke only what he knew
Was true-why Jesus sighed
When Lazarus awoke, how far
His face fell when his mother wept,
What touch of sky his eyes
Flashed when Dismas spoke.
Then forward as before he would
Fumble to the ritual's conclusion.
A milpera burnt sienna
Blind and smiling in the first
Pew every morning bumped
Her way gracefully through
The apse unannounced and broke
The silence of the sacristy.
'You give us pauses, Father,
Time to think and pray.'
He responded flawlessly,
'And they're all spontaneous.'


En route to town
we stopped to shoo
an innocent bananaquit
from harm's way.
En route home
Jackie slowly laid her
on the shoulder motionless.
For the first time
in her five years
she missed dinner.
At the intersection
on her wedding day,
something still
stirs inside.

Back to Contents Page || Back to Jouvert Mainpage