legacy - bush tea lessons and manhood rites
roger bonair agard
My grandfather stood tall / five foot five to be exact / wiry sturdy austere devout / He managed seven acres of crop for fifty-five years, kept a grudge from age 8 ‘til death, and on the eve of his eighty-second birthday had enough strength left / to chase ‘stink mout’ Martin / down the street / because the boy had beat me up. He slipped off his wood-soled slippers / picked up a bat on the run / and at more than four-score years / scared the fear of God / into a fifteen-year-old boy.
At family gatherings, he would reach into the sideboard / to pour me some / ‘chaka chaka’ / he would call it / unbothered with the specifics of liqueur, brandy, wine, gin, rum / he’d invented his own collective noun / for the stuff he said / would keep ‘the cold’ away.
Now, no more cocoa gets cut / coffee is danced only in our nostalgias.
I exorcise my own demons now / my grandfather’s body / unruined and previously unstudied / by doctor’s or dentist’s wisdom / grins an unfamiliar grimace.
I grin along.
No more bush tea, fever grass or ground provision / my grandfather inherits / a world of catheters and chemotherapy / his pleasure relegated to / one daily soaping and shaving.
I am not sure why this task is mine.
... but am told that with Juni in / the Cayman Islands / I am, at 14, the family’s eldest male.
I shave him carefully -
each stubbled strand greyed to perfection
I slice smooth
pulling his slackened flesh taut / against his sun burned skin. / The individual grey stubs / are luminous knobs of silver / gems of learning and wisdom.
My fourteen year old hands steady, I am proud of my skill with a straight razor / my grandfather is proud / to hand over his patriarchy at blade point / punctuating this new paragraph in our relationship, with proverb and information.
“The acre nearest the road is yours.
It have cocoa an’ tambran’...”
“Talk some; keep some - everybody
eh ready to know everyting...”
“Look some money in a kerchief in
de drawer - yuh have your school
I answer for the first time, dutifully / a sense of history / riding my shoulders in his stories and questions / the burden unsteadies my hand / dip the brush into the lather - camouflage for my hesitation ...
... and pick up the razor again / white-handled and deadly / I carve family jewels / - smooth / off his tightened black skin...
“...only drink bush tea.”
“Clean yuh teeth with Hibiscus branch...”
In the final months before illness / like all people close to the land / grandfather prepared for his journey.
Though we lived on oblique corners / from each other / he would go the entire block around / and enter our back gate / so no-one knew where he went...
“...the land is divided in seven...”
“Make sure yuh get yours...”
“Watch out for yuh aunt, yuh sister, yuh cousin, who vex dat yuh gettin’
anyting at all...”
We would listen with supercilious reason / sure that senility had finally come.
I bore his coffin at the funeral / the youngest of six pall-bearers.
That Christmas I cried into the family festivities / the razor’s secrets at my breast pocket / my glass full of ‘chaka chaka’ / one tear / like the razor’s fluid stroke / strolling down my cheek / splashing rippling into the beverage / echoing his proverbs.
Roger Bonair Agard ©2003