An Unfortunate Number
What did I expect? For decades I have watched the sea bury bones of people you believed to be different. I have watched sloops like hopeful broken wings of seabirds catch the teeth of coral in the distance, or worse, the eyes of their own from shore. I know your headlines, your bodies stacked and stinking—what do you think you print on? 147 captured and detained. 83 intercepted. 42 alive. Faces pressed against gates, faces stitched with rust. And now I bear a number and I see you approach me with a saw to stitch me with rust. You will not honour me by burying my bones. You will not honour me by letting the ocean swallow me whole. No matter. Place is just another construction. You can keep your nationalist dreams. Death is a country we will soon all know.
Everything you touch is complicated. It’s human nature. I see it everywhere now. Maybe I didn’t always believe that. I remember, once, many centuries ago, you folded me into the earth on nothing more than faith and the promise of beauty. Have you ever looked at a plant and loved it, really loved it? We felt that. It’s been measured. We feel everything, the tiniest bacteria dying in your garbage disposal, even the egg as it’s cracked. It’s no secret. The trick is to see. We desire nothing but to be, to live where we’ve always lived, to let our roots make a home in this harsh sand. We have no complicated cultures, no hierarchies of being. We have needles that fall and needles that grow and the understanding that wherever we go, there we are. Here I am. Isn’t that enough? I ask you—have you ever only wanted just that?
Everything falls. Everyone knows that. We watched as you made laws to give reason to the world, gave language as if none existed before yours. You split the apple and our trunks at once and this meant something, something that you made new but was there all along. But you forgot about the gravity of the ocean. You forgot because you don’t sit in front of it every day and speak full of hand-held gazes. The ocean says, with tiny hands that approach and retreat, Do not underestimate me. You never listen. And now, you have given me a version of gravity that I never knew, a most violent translation. And for that you will know loss as you never have before. I take with me to the grave everything I ever gave or promised you.
Look. We are not cathedrals. We are not angel-like. We are trees. God is yours, not ours. I felt your hands close dirt around me and I did the rest with the sun and air and soil. If I were like you I would think the sun were a god. But I am no sunflower. The sun did not make me. Everything made me, and everything was supposed to take me away. But you changed all that.You who sit in sacred spaces and grope the sky like steeples, your palm fractions forgetting the exact whorls of the pineapple, the particular twist in the scales of my needles, your blood forgetting the chemistry of the ocean. I am here to remind you of the percentage between us. Perhaps I have already done that. Perhaps that is why I must now go.
I am not afraid of dying. If you could measure it, you would know it. Here’s a way. Remember when you used to sit beneath me and gaze at the waves breaking in the distance? Remember the days so hot and thick you could swim in them? Those days are gone. Do not be afraid for me. Be afraid for you. Be afraid for one day, far from now, your toes will find one of my dead roots in the sand. I am waiting for you. I am still here.Your headstone will be like my stump, our stumps lining the beach, our limbs still tangles in the land we knew. Do not be afraid anymore. Instead, look up. Don’t just know the fleeting, recognize it. We are already like those stars. They aren’t waiting for you. The light you see is already dead. But they are still so beautiful and so very present.
•••Sonia Farmer is a writer and poet from The Bahamas and is the author of two chapbooks, What Becomes Us and Grow. Her work has appeared in The Caribbean Writer, Poui, tongues of the ocean, WomanSpeak, A Journal of Literature and Art by Caribbean Women, Correspondence, Ubiquitous and the Carifesta X Anthology. She was awarded the Small Axe Poetry Prize in 2011. She is the founder of Poinciana Paper Press that produces hand-bound, limited edition chapbooks of Caribbean writing. She holds a BFA in Writing from Pratt Institute.