Sunday, 26 February 2017

Hiccups - Léon Damas

I gulp down seven drinks of water
several times a day
and all in vain
instinctively
like the criminal to the crime
my childhood returns
in a rousing fit of hiccups

Talk about calamity
talk about disasters
I’ll tell you

My mother wanted her son to have good manners at the table:
             keep your hands on the table
             we don’t cut bread
             we break it
             we don’t gobble it down
             the bread your father sweats for
             our daily bread
             eat the bones carefully and neatly
             a stomach has to have good manners too
             and a well-bred stomach never
             burps
             a fork is not a tooth-pick
             don’t pick your nose
             in front of the whole world
             and sit up straight
             a well-bred nose
             doesn’t sweep the plate

And then
and then
and then in the name of the Father
                                      and the Son
                                      and the Holy Ghost
at the end of every meal

And then and then
talk about calamity
talk about disasters
I’ll tell you

My mother wanted her son to have the very best marks
             if you don’t know your history
             you won’t go to mass
             tomorrow
             in your Sunday suit

This child will disgrace our family name
This child will be our   in the name of God
             be quiet
             have I or have I not
             told you to speak French
             the French of France
             the French that Frenchmen speak
             French French

Talk about calamity
talk about disasters
I’ll tell you

My mother wanted her son to be a mama’s boy:
             you didn’t say good evening to our neighbour
             what—dirty shoes again
             and don’t let me catch you any more
             playing in the street or on the grass or in the park
             underneath the War Memorial
             playing
             or picking a fight with what’s-his-name
             what’s-his-name who isn’t even baptized

Talk about calamity
talk about disasters
I’ll tell you

My mother wanted her son to be
                                      very do
                                      very re
                                      very mi
                                      very fa
                                      very sol
                                      very la
                                      very ti
                                      very do-re-mi
                                      fa-sol-la-ti
                                                     do

I see you haven’t been to your vi-o-lin lesson
             a banjo
             did you say a banjo
             what do you mean
             a banjo
             you really mean
             a banjo
             no indeed young man
                                      you know there won’t be any
                                      ban-or
                                           jo
                                               or
                                                   gui-or
                                                        tar
                                                              in our house
They are not for coloured people
Leave them to the black folks!

For Vashti and Mercer Cook

Léon Damas (1912 - 1978) French Guiana
Source: Beltway Quarterly Poetry

1 comment:

Please keep your comments relevant and free from abusive language. Thank you.