Conjunctions:27 The Archipelago: New Caribbean Writing

Three Poems
Mokongo Y To’ Esa Gente

Eyibaríba eyibaríba enkamá
Wá      [chorus]
Eyibaríba eyibaríba enkamá
Wá      [chorus]
Sounds that spread through past wombs
those before Mokongo y toda esa gente
sound too much like thumps
like the procession of feet from Abakuá1
on that day carrying casket y bailando la caja
teetering on bounce of 6/8 rhythm
like an incomplete thought between bone & spirit—
we were born on such a day
on such a day we kneeled before certain clouds
& chose our calabash full of destiny
The hardest thing to remember
is sounds from those wombs before Mokongo—
Eyibaríba eyibaríba enkamá
Wá      [chorus]

4 years he wandered streets in Regla
lingering like delicate webs of tabaco smoke
or inside vacant bottle de aguardiente
(That’s why bottles should be layed to rest while empty)
Even two miscarriages our mother had
So they clipped a bit of ear from the stillborn
to identify him indelibly upon return
y to assure he did not leave again
fastened small chain around left ankle

After 4 years Mokongo y toda esa gente
decided to help
On such a day
we sealed the pact with death/ikú
ikú would have to filter through thick curtains of mariwó2
though the sounds thumped like a procession of feet
against the ear missing a snap—
Eyibaríba eyibaríba enkamá
Wá      [chorus]


What about Feyo, Frank, Emilio, Luis, y Mongo
their hair their platinum teeth
how they were men y mostly fathers
one young guerillero leaning on steel bars
shot in Santo Domingo
They keep waving flags of rainbow
asking for glass of water
flores y perfume
claiming they’re still here—
though de vez en cuando
some café spills prior to being served
or a plate with morsels of platanos arroz y pollo asado
cracks in approval like an offered eucharist

And how can we forget Alfonsa—
placed like a dune of stone on the shore
smiling like someone whose known you for a while
dress of blue gingham/guinga flapping
like waves of laughter


In an isolated house
a father remains alone wearing
milky silky slacks y guayabera
watching the mediterranean stucco & tile

asking certain stones & ceiba
wind & streams who animate things through the other world
to deliver this message to his son
We need the skull of a ram carnero o sheep—
just like bone is past memorized
just like blood is life actualized
so is spirit time humanized

Eyibaríba eyibaríba enkamá
Wá      [chorus]
Eyibaríba eyibaríba enkamá
Wá      [chorus]
Tó Egúngún!


Canto of the Tyrant Who Hangs Himself
We purchased a piece of thunder
a ki-lack-um of ilú/tambor
We caught the thundercelt
in its rapid descension to
the dance of flames

We’ve seen the face of power
inside the inverted pilón
mortar con(secretos)
There were certain shadows
of caudillos on white horses—
Trujillo before his last date with the mistress
Batista entering one of his casinos
Barrientos posing with el Ché
Diaz Ordáz & corpses of 300 students
Videla surrounded by Plaza de Mayo mothers
Somoza slipping on a banana from United Fruit
Rios Montt wearing the cloth of countless massacred indios
Fidel is surfing the Gulf on a raft with his favorite cow
There were certain shadows
of the ceiba tree where they hung themselves
within the inverted pilón
mortar con(secretos)
After the tyranny
there are so few places to go
places to sing
eat gourds of quimbombó y kalalú
kalalú y quimbombó

We purchased a pinch of
Who would be struck by red thunder
being summoned by goatskin?
And how would the first flame
arrive at the throne?

A palma showed us its kingdom—
We were smiling like red-vested mummies
like dancing worms
in a puddle of stones
pile of water
streams of smoke
smoke of streams sending signs
estamos vivito y coleando
this culture is still burning fresco
cool y caliente like guaguancó/columbia/yambú
Muñequitos de Matanzas style
like bomba y plena
Cepeda style
like merengue
Ventura style

There were certain shadows
of the imprisonment of Masayá
of the day he found Olufina’s horse
on the path to the big mortar
on his way to greet him
The horse had been missing for some time
But just as Masayá was approaching the throne
Olufina’s guards saw him riding the stolen horse
(ki-ti-tack ki-ti-tack ki-ti-tack)
saw him as a thief
(ki-ti-tack ki-ti-tack)
saw him prisoner
Don Masayá stated his case to small burned stones
He remained prisoner with a pen as a pillow
& white cloth
Yet mothers were giving birth to death
crops wilted the river
was now a snake of clay

A poet with yellow n’ green tongue & wrists beaded
told Olufina there was someone
wrongly wrapped in iron boxes
someone of some relation
This retribution
was the source of much trouble
Masayá would later brand a poem
unto the turtle’s shell
offer it to Olufina—
“... so long you kept me hidden
& never saw my face
When would you’ve realized that I
did not steal yr horse
that I came to yr land to greet you
& bring you a gift ...”

El pueblo dice: Masayá Obakosó o
& drums summon thunder
dicen: Obakosó o
& stones rain from the sky
dicen: Obakosó o
& the caudillo dangles from a ceiba
dicen: Obakosó o
& the old memory is the new
dicen: Obakosó o
& the new memory crackles
dice Masayá: Obakosó o
& odu burns beyond3


Para la installation de José Bedia
Que tu son Kongo
emi ni son Yoruba
canto en inglés—

The marriage of spirit & history
is often like a dance of streams
dance of rainbows
like sending smoke signals yes there is hope
& yes we can resist the urge to forget

The brick boat
with its shadow about to speak
tells the story
So we gather bits of myth—
something like balsas
Something like torn cloth
armed with little war instruments
Shovel & hoe to erect roots
(they can be amuletos so long you keep them in yr pocket necklace yr head)
Something like rope
like white headtie
to provoke stability & peace of mind
Something like a strewn slipper de niño
we call this chancleta
we call this sorrow

Que tu son Kongo
emi ni son Yoruba
canto en español—

E yo hala garabato mi Kongo
mi Kongo Kongo real
hala garabato halo

We who are born from river water
sea water
tambor y trueno
repique de brisa & stones

We who circle clouds of cotton
with a certain chant
We who choose el canto—
in Spanish or Kongo Biyumba
Osha Lukumí
Monina nkamá
in Arara kwero Dahomey e e
We who build shrines to migration
We who die with
river water sea water
tambor y trueno
repique de brisa &stones

Those who cast the first balsa
in the bombardment of boats
who cast a desperate wail
Pablo, Antonio, Miguel
maybe even Raquel
They said one throws the rock
but it’s the people who get blamed
it’s the people who get blamed
when one throws the rock
(Oye basta de cuento
llego el momento de—
Those who cast the first balsa
even though they’ve seen empty
even bitten innertubes
lying softly on a breezy shore
even though they’ve seen the iron rudder
with the signature of Zarabanda Kimbansa
strewn on a pile of stones
strewn like dead fish


He who struts con crutches
but dances without them
has a body of trembles
but inside has signs of infinity—
a dog can be his messenger
San Lao San Lao
Kobayende San Lao

He who sits at crossroads
changing destinies with a funny dance
sometimes from pebble to sugar
from sugar to pebble

Que tu son Kongo
emi ni son Yoruba
canto en Lukumí—

Eshu odara
Elegba kó soro odá ni ofo
kó soro ofo ni odá
Osha re o

Four twins spin a hymn—
something about opening yr eyes
to what is before you
(Irosun meyi)
about being led into a trap
(Irosun meyi)
They said no one knows what’s at the bottom of the sea
They said you must be careful
There’s someone with big boots
standing on a shore
& yes there’s a hole just ahead
You must be careful
the ocean seems to be hungry these days—

1. Abakuá: Secret society of men in Cuba. Formed by descendents of slaves from the Calabar.

2. mariwó: Palm fronds.

3. odu: Divination verse in Yoruba religion.

Adrian Castro has been published in several anthologies, including Paper Dance: 55 Latino Poets (Persea Books) and Little Havana Blues (Arte Publico).