Jamaican
by Peter Chin

I am a kind of Jamaican that might not be familiar

or as some have said not really Jamaican

or not Jamaican enough

or not Jamaican at all

Nevertheless, the kind of Jamaican that I am

I bring to the profusion that is jamaican-ness

as an addition

an offering 

a gift

as more

 

because I emerged from the womb on August 1 1962 

the same moment when Jamaica also birthed itself 

as an independent nation, 

it would seem that I made a pact with Jamaica 

to set out together, 

to follow each, 

our own arduous paths 

of liberation and self-determination.

 

In the Jamaica matrix

Chinese, black and white have mixed together 

to haunt me 

from the inside 

out of many – one people 

so the motto of Jamaica goes

on its coat of arms 

flanked by two indigenous Taino people

a people we are told, are long gone 

are no more

 

but some speak up to say

‘they are in me’

‘we are still here’

impelled by an inner knowing

of an ancestral Jamaica 

long before Europeans 

and the middle passage

before heroes and villains

reggae or patois

breadfruit and ackee trees 

trees brought here 

to nourish 

and to add

to the endemic hosts

 

‘we live through you’ they say

ancestral utterances echoing through my being

manifesting like ghosts

in involuntary gesture 

sudden thought and impulse

in flashes of facial dancing 

like passing cloud-masks

later, vanishing 

only to reform again 

in different volumes 

bringing new knowing

 

and before that time?

an enticing darkness

into which the imagination projects

like a flashlight into a cave   

the time of primordial terrain 

an island rising solitary from the sea

never before having had contact to any other landmass

unique

alone

a place yet with no name 

except perhaps in a language now impossible to retrieve

 

~

 

Mama, my Black grandmother, makes chocolate tea

‘parching’ the cocoa seeds on zinc in the sun

grinding and shaping them into ebony orbs

grating these to dark dust into boiling water

mixing   

measuring 

into it 

the sweetened condensed milk

that mellows bitterness 

cinnamon leaves plucked from the tree in the yard

join with bracing pimento berries 

into the hot brew

a glistening oiliness appears 

floating on top 

an expression of the cocoa seed’s life 

this I pour into myself

nourished and scorched

 

porousness like rain on limestone hills 

seeping down deep and leaving 

the brush parched and exposed but alive

on Long Mountain on the way to Palisadoes  

this exterior

the uppermost layer of many more 

much much more 

beneath 

lets water flow through

surface lushness sacrificed

for subterranean substance

changes me

from the inside 

nourishing and eroding

 

interior chambers and hollows

carved by the percolating tears

hold inner spaces filled with unknown magic

 

higher mountains in the clouds

drip with moisture and intimations

inexorably coalescing as tributaries 

channeling into open veins

that flow down to the sea 

to mix and share codes

with the welcoming ocean

at once 

finding itself

by utterly losing itself 

its integrity spreading far and wide

reaching down

to the deepest levels

 

but in the end

does it matter that it matters 

very much

how precisely I am Jamaican?

how fine-tuned 

how evolved 

my self-knowing 

through this matrix 

of jamaican-ness

 

this integrity 

which we, 

jamaican-ness and I 

have arduously quested for

is finally given up 

to unimaginable vastness

where the edges of our island 

bleed further and further out

beneath the ocean

until there is only

borderlessness 

Video performance of Peter Chin's poem Jamaican commissioned in part by The Dance Current magazine and with major funding by Tribal Crackling Wind and NKK Dance Centre Siem Reap

Tribal Crackling Wind for the Arts

33 Wood Street, #3001 Toronto, ON  M4Y 2P8

Ph: 416.593.8455

info(at)tribalcracklingwind.ca