Poem of the Week (ahem) : Guinea Woman, by Lorna Goodison

Guinea Woman

Great grandmother
was a guinea woman
wide eyes turning
the corners of her face
could see behind her
her cheeks dusted with
a fine rash of jet-bead wars
that itched when the rain set up.

Great grandmother’s waistline
the spam of a headman’s hand
slender and tall like a cane stalk
with a guinea woman’s antelope-quick walk
and when she paused
her gaze would look to sea
her profile fine like some obverse impression
on a guinea coin from royal memory.

It seems her fate was anchored
in the unfathomable sea
for her great grandmother caught the eye of a sailor
whose ship sailed without him from Lucea harbour.
Great grandmother’s royal scent of
cinnamon and escallions
drew the sailor up the straits of Africa,
the evidence my blue-eyed grandmother
the first Mulatta
taken into backra’s household
and covered with his name.
They forbade great grandmother’s
guinea woman presence
they washed away her scent of
cinnamon and escallions
controlled the child’s antelope walk
and called her uprisings rebellions.

But, great grandmother
I see your features blood dark
appearing
in the children of each new
breeding
the high yellow brown
is darkening down.
Listen, children
it’s great grandmother’s turn.

Okay guys, this poem is the bee’s knees. The cat’s meow. The shizznit. Whatever you’d like to call it. I am madly in love with this poem. I’ve scoured the internet (i.e. lightly searched google) for a sound file of Lorna Goodison reading this poem, but I cannot find one. Tonight, she opened her keynote speech at UVA’s graduate conference reading this from memory. I love it not in her voice, but her voice places it on an entirely different level. We recorded the keynote and will be putting it online, and when that happens I’ll put a link to it here. The keynote was great, and this poem was definitely a high point for me.

Lorna Goodison is a Jamaican poet who teaches at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She publishes sparingly but beautifully. Today, I had the fortune of spending some time with her, and she is not only a very nice person but also has shoes with pandas on them. This poem comes from her 1986 collection I am Becoming My Mother. 

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One thought on “Poem of the Week (ahem) : Guinea Woman, by Lorna Goodison

  1. I know now of my Mother’s plight and she is not forgotten. Her blood line continues in her childrens’ children.

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