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The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2020

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MAR 2020 Issue
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24 February 2015

Georgetown, Guyana

We go to the Guyana Zoo and Botanical Gardens and the animals are kept in small cages. The otter swims diagonally back and forth in its pool; the puma, ocelot, and tiger prowl ten steps forward, then ten steps back, giving the funkiest stink-eye to rival the odor coming from their cages; the monkeys are so vexed and tired of being spectacle they toss food at us and shake their cages in hopes that this time the bars will concede.

Adjacent to the zoo is the Botanical Gardens, which are simply manicured lawns. Stretches. And Mondayway and I wonder why don’t they expand the zoo into the “Garden,” or give the animals to a nature reserve and stop maintaining this inhumane colonial pastime? This is what the whole colonial enterprise does to the living—structures and contains so our living serves the system. These structures are “centipedes in our heads,” bodies, and psyches—a madness that then precipitates the need to separate from ourselves.

After the “Gardens,” we venture a walk-about to Cara Lodge for lunch. On our tourist map of Georgetown, the Lodge is advertised as a hotel and restaurant, serving cocktails and authentic Guyanese cuisine. On our walk-about, Mondayway takes photos of old wooden doors, weathered from sun, rain, and those salty breezes coming from the Atlantic. The old churches look the most like ghosts—white paint peeling, shuttered windows, their steeples moaning with mockingbirds and pigeons. We see a man, possibly in his 30s, with a deep gash across his head, lying unconscious in the sun, his calloused feet in a puddle of water, a stray dog is lapping. Should we do something? We follow the example of a group of students in cobalt uniforms who pass by and treat the gashed man like it’s nothing new.

We walk in rectangles and squares to find Cara Lodge and when we follow the direction in which people’s fingers point, are still lost. We hail a taxi and the driver takes us to a block we passed twice. Cara Lodge is tucked quietly into the street, out of view, with a cathedral of palm trees at its entrance. The hostess welcomes us. Escorts us to seats in the garden area, and while giving us our menus she asks if I am Guyanese. I reply, No. She goes to put in our rum punch orders, and Mondayway says, “Yes, you are. You are Guyanese American.”

I would be more willing to claim the Guyanese if I was reared with the culture. My stepfather Bing wanted to be Jamaican. The only thing Guyanese about me is my father and we know how that goes. Gerald is caught up in a past-time, a heyday, the glory days and there’s no place for me in that. All the “what-ifs” and “remember-whens” make him unavailable to me. He has made very little effort toward my life.

Guyana is abandonment from my father. I feel the weight of the people in me and I in them, guilt I carry myself alone. Feel survival or selfishness, “we can do without you” and it’s familial. We got stuff between us—stuff we don’t even know. Their faces are my father’s face and I am bereft. I wonder where do I belong and will I ever?

I come back to now, to heart, to being present in my breath, I breathe, I breathe, I breathe because no place or no single person or people, is belonging for me. Without anger or desperation or aspirations to be Zen or enlightened—I just get it. I get how much I needed others to belong to me, to “be-long”—to extend over a considerable length of time. To be a solid-something to return to and name myself alongside, to identify with in hopes that it would confirm that things will remain far into the future. That I will not be left and therefore will not need to face my own ideological, psychological, or physical death.

Similar to how Gerald wishes for the constancy of what was—if the government gave him his pension, if the family gave him his inheritance, if he was paid what was owed, then he could truly live. But searching for the constant orients life toward “having” and not “being.” Spirit is restless in a state of having, and I’m not having that. I’m being a legit motherfather to myself.

I order the Metemgee with fried fish—a traditional dish with African origins. In Twi, “metem” means plantains, and “gye” means delight, and its made with a selection of local ground provisions slow cooked in coconut milk and topped with fried fish. I could eat Metemgee for the rest of my life.

Contributor

Arisa White

Arisa White is a poet and educator. Her forthcoming collection Who's Your Daddy? will be published by Augury Books in 2021. arisawhite.com

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2020

All Issues