Threnody

Lorna Goodison

For Barbara

Mama got light cakes shaped like small shells from our cousin

Madelyn who’d turned her hand to baking these delicacies

laced with honey and lemon. She served them on side plates set

down by a vase massed with marigolds on our old dining table

spread with a cream damask tablecloth from better days.

Porto Pruno wine aglow in our last two unchipped wine glasses.

A sweet-mouth repast for the day you brought him to meet us.

This is Jean, he is from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His name must be

pronounced Jha. In order to sound it right, you must glide it

over the back teeth, then express it out of a half-open mouth.

Jean est journaliste, on assignment to the Star newspaper

where you were star reporter. When you left for the evening shift,

I stood on a carton box and peeped from the upstairs window

to see Jean pause at the gate, light a cigarette, pull in and release

a smoke ring, then a smoke veil sheer as illusion tulle.

He draped one arm like love’s banner across your shoulders.

There was talk of marriage and you making a home in Haiti.

Then came shock bulletins of Papa Doc and Tonton Macoute.

And did Jean flee to France where he and his creole parents

owned a pied-à-terre in Paris, or was it a château in Provence?

No more Jean. Time passed and you loved again; but now

You’re traveling, will you want to stop over in France? If you do

get a dainty honey and lemon cake that might bring you back to:

Jean at a gate, smoke ring, and a smoke veil you’ll pass through.

O mon soeur. My sister, pass through.

Lorna Goodison is a Caribbean poet, essayist, and memoirist. From 2017 to 2020 she served as Poet Laureate of Jamaica. She is Professor Emerita at the University of Michigan, where she was the Lemuel A. Johnson Professor of English and African and Afroamerican Studies.
Originally published:
December 6, 2022

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