Cola lacaye.

my aunt’s 2nd wedding. 
an august festival for some. 
an all day marathon for those who know her. 
a common cocktail for a haitian wedding. 
and speaking of the motherland and thirst, 
my mother asks me to get her a cola lacaye, 
an old haitian soda.

going to the kitchen, it is empty, despite the aluminum mountain of pikliz,
plantain piled onto plates, a sea of rice and souspa on the back stove,
pots of golden griot but behind the crates of cola lacaye in the corner,
there lay a woman.

barefoot, sobbing, and with a slice of lime in her hand, 
in a mix of broken english and broken spirit, 
she explains to whoever’s on the phone 
that her uncle in haiti just died 
she was about to be deported in exactly 150 days, 
because temporary protected status was set to end next january, 
there was nowhere else for her to go. 
she will be lost in a land that will never be home. 

i think about how i’ve always wanted to 
name something, like a daughter, january, 
think now of how this will be the cruelest winter. 
how 150 days can melt an island. 
how haitian bodies have known ICE like this before but 
the island hasn’t prepared for such a snowstorm, 
something so white and violent that forecasts scream 32 degrees KKK. 
& maybe august could serve as a better name 
as we are still frozen—but in celebration. 
are we still waiting for this refugee sunshine 
or did someone leave the refrigerator door open?

and speaking of the motherland, a refrigerator, and patience, 
i hear my father call me from the distance 
asking what’s taking so long to get my mother a drink 
and by the time i look up, that woman is gone 

i grab my mother’s cola lacaye, 
and try not to drop the glass bottle with shaking hands. 
she asks if i knew what cola lacaye means 
explains that it translates to “soda of the home” 
and takes a sip. 
the frost in my throat gives.

chins and thighs.

the first time a man ever looked at my body as food, 
with fire in his eyes and persuasion on his lips, 
i was 19 years old and a virgin. 
when i was younger than that, i was fat and dark.
the dark, fat shell protected me from male attraction,
precious in more ways than one but 
sparing me was the key. 

i just didn’t know it was for the backdoor.

we didn’t go to the same school but even the boy next door was lightskin. 
first crush: my neighbor, featured middle child to his 4 siblings as I had 1 little sister so he really couldn’t
see me even if i was right next to me. 
despite how much bigger i was than him, the backyard and other dreams were always so much bigger.

since everybody at school was white though, i knew all i was ever gonna be was a small flavor.
chocolate sauce dripping around some vanilla ice cream, except, maybe not on sundaes.

everybody in my church was haitian, 
and the women commented on how smart I was, but dark + big like they weren’t themselves. 
I was the big dark kettle with the tiny tea sister cup with a chip in it (you know, from the Beauty
and the Beast movie) getting called black by the pots of the congregation 
with the same chins and thighs and rolls, baby fat but grown. 

the first boy who ever told me they liked me did it as a bet…and Jesus laughed. 
a joke in the middle of the church. it is in front of god and my ancestors when i realize heaven
and hell might be the exact same place and i am the exact opposite of a dream girl. a growing
nightmare of a woman, shadowy and big, seen only in the backyard. dream girl is taller, still
small, and light like the dolls with blue eyes or brown hair that doesn’t coil maybe, with nice,
creamy, skin. flesh that would glow if you buffed it 
and I could never be that tall, pale or transparent.

The boy who laughed at me that sunday, I could never make him feel more comfortable with his own
blackness with mine. 
I could never be the Saran Wrap if I was the burnt food. my mom was just as sad for me.
for months after that, all I could think about was what I couldn’t do and I prayed about how I 
was covered with damage and how sugar has softened my skin too many summers before and
some days in July, I am so dark that my thoughts become my own colonizer, I drain and plunder myself

the first time a man ever looked at my body as food, with fire in his eyes and persuasion on his
lips, i was 19 years old and a virgin. 
when i was younger than that, i was fat. 
and i was still cursed with chins and thighs + to be the darkest girl I always knew in the room, 
let alone saw being supported, even in college.
love was polarizing and it paralyzed me 
the realization that becoming an adult won’t change anything. 
inner child is still convinced that the pale girls, the skinny ones 
will always be who deserves love, mercy, and grace. 
even after high school and weight loss and re-education, 
i’m still afraid of love as quiet as it is kept.

parsley necklace.

haiti is a song one often forgets. 
they say. 
two islands, one whole. 
attune to a frequency 
native only to the colonies of bees underneath 
the window as she crouched to her knees 
at the sight of the tanks up ahead, 
the pollen lay at the feet of the hive 
hoping this will not be a bloodbath of honey 

dominican soldier opens the door. 
there is a branch of parsley. 
he asks for spanish. 

she speaks. 
& there is a second where she almost sees him consider it. 
where haitian and dominican mean very little 
at that moment and they are faced with mortality 
but before soldier has a chance to surrender mercy 
she meets grief. 
swan song of a life remaining still 
within the drumming of bees 

& speaking of bad memories, 
our ancestors have yet to learn how to forget 
rising from the bottom of the sea, they ask 
do you still wear the parsley necklace. 
or is it wrapped around brass knuckles 
spread beyond seas to encapsulate 
such a shithole of a country. 
a country that knows a witchhunt when they see it. 
only this time its caught in the teeth of men on tv.

golden griot.

 after “The Avocado” by Terrence Hayes

“In Haiti 2020, full on the sweet, sweet juice of revolution,
a walking mountain of us marched into the president’s office with a list 
of demands,” the black man tells us at the June luncheon, 
and i sit idly, pretending i haven’t heard this one before as i eye 
golden griot on a white and gold plate beside a big green bowl 
of pikliz made from the whipped, battered remains 
of several harmless former vegetables. peeled by hand, crafted, and dressed. 
beside it, thin, crispy, salty, wide plantains on a red plate. 
behind it, plump, glazed, and sweet plantains with cream & peaches 
that go well with the wine and the going on about the drowning of a nation that stood shoulders with
giants and laughed at the bullet holes in their outfits, staring down the sword. 

 “Demand 11: We wanted more boulevards named for the Toussaint L’ouverture. An airport named
for Princess Anacoana.” he draws on and i continue to ponder 
the animal behind the meat, the goat, the glory, affirming that 
it’s not too crazy to imagine the goat as a symbol of revolt on the liberation’s flag. 
but mine would be a pot of griot, golden, 
enough gold to fill each womb, enough to nurse the warriors 
waiting to enter this world with bright fists, screaming: 
“Fight back!” 
the man says, but I’m thinking 
of the dirt colored flesh of the meat, high in its oil content, 
second only to plantain and cream, shades much lighter 
but not nearly as fulfilling or satisfying and 
I dare you to find a lovelier black woman than from the golden pot of the island, 
where the North touches the South with mountaintop gentleness. 

after all, we are all one kind of abolitionist or another, no doubt 
there’s liberation in being softer than one would expect. 
and we are like the griot on the table, 
beholden to the shocking odds of being available here and now, 
better for being bitten + fighting to make it to the plate 
with its inedible gumminess and elasticity. 

many Haitians have kept goats as companions for as long as they could hold on to fortune. 
brother man is weeping now, a walking wet tissue to the trash can 
and saying, “Harriet Tubman was a walking shadow,” or, “Harriet Tubman
walked in shadows,” or, “To many, Harriet Tubman was a shadow 
to walk in,” and the meaning is glistening meat, mashed vegetables pureed flesh with lime juice, 
minced garlic, and dust; or is it salt, or the ghost pepper that 
Harriet Tubman tossed over her shoulder to trouble the bloodhounds as bad as her sleep. 

“Goddamn, ain’t you hungry?” the man who lives in my phone texts,
putting a digital finger to my lips to distract me,
saying, “baby, wasn’t that you waking me up last night?  
I had a dream where we were in the mountains.”
crisp air, cool and still thick, under the eye of predators, 
with nothing but wit and dumb luck from the weather 
and Mother’s moods were becoming mercurial, 
storming with new, dumbfounded and raw neglect. 
“We weren’t going to be Black, we weren’t going to be Negro. Wasn’t that you, baby?”
someone’s belly is growling
“somewhere where america doesn’t mean anything”
his contact name whispered to me 
& it was completely without hesitation 
about who was food then. 

Mernine Ameris

What is the significance of this work to you?

The works included in this submission are from an unpublished chapbook, The Sunflower Girl Collection. In 2018, I created a digital media platform called The Sunflower Girl Collective, designed to showcase the literary and visual creativity, with a light shining on femme, queer and gender nonconforming East Coast artists of all ages. The works included are for the themed call of Hybrid Identities and all have Caribbean subject matters, specifically Haitian. I was born to two Haitian immigrants in a working class immigrant neighborhood. All of the works reflect a different Afro-Caribbean experience, from the first days of freedom on the island to the modern first gen American experience.

What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?

I view these almost all as elegies. The elements of a traditional elegy mirror three stages of loss. First, there is a lament, where the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally consolation and solace. All of the works involve the stages of grief and all end with solace, as bittersweet as that can be, as much as the subject of the poem can afford, which might not be much for the Afro-Caribbean.

What was your process for creating this work?

I always start writing a poem after reading something good or consuming another form of artistic fuel. If you want to write poetry, you have to hear it. You have to read it. It’s easy to get caught up in your own words so I like to get lost properly in others. For "golden griot, after the avocado", specifically, it was a newer poem I did heavily influenced by another poem I was reading on some thread on either Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, some scrolling site somewhere about avocado toast. Miraculously, I found two great poems: one is actually named "avocado boat" by Raj Arumugam. (https://hellopoetry.com/poem/65085/avocado-boat/) and the other is named "The Avocado by Terrence Hayes" (http://www.divasofverse.com/2018/04/the-avocado-by-terrance-hayes.html). He is on the Carnegie Mellon University Creative Writing website as a Professor of Creative Writing at that institution and that he "aspires to a poetic style that resists style." I wrote "golden griot" right before and after George Floyd died, while I was researching gender and slavery, I knew I had to write a poem inspired by Hayes when I found this article from Rutgers University (shoutout to my home state of New Jersey.) (https://www.degruyter.com/rutgers/view/book/9780813583983/10.36019/9780813583983-004.xml). The poem began as an exercise in found poetry and wouldn't be possible without the work of Hayes. I try to write what I'm thinking or feeling in pen and paper, then I like to read the lines, transcribe the written ones, and re-read while I'm transcribing. While I transcribe, I start to arrange the lines and create a web or a map of words. I rely on description a lot. I know I want to keep things to one page, because otherwise I could go on forever. 

Mernine Ameris is a 23 year old queer black woman, also known as the hopeless romantic friend who has never been in a relationship. She is a poet, fiction writer, essayist, nationally decorated public speaker, actress, all around creative, and founder of The Sunflower Girl Collective, which is looking for submissions for its third journal. Her work has been curated by Medium, performed on various campuses, published in Volition Magazine, Hysterical Rag, PCC Inscape Mag, Poets Reading the News, Variety Pack Mag, and the Brain Mill Press. Writing is her first love. Public speaking is her second.  She attended George Mason University for its speech team and she is the 2017 American Forensics Association champion of Duo Interpretation and the 2019 National Forensics Association runner up in Rhetorical Criticism. Her favorite foods are calamari, chicken nuggets, cheese and words. Language has been her greatest gift. She is a Virgo, ENFP, Type 4, who really likes personality tests and can currently be found rediscovering her love for horror movies through speculative fiction, one of the best genres. 

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