Part I: September 2015
On Monday January 19th, after excitedly Instagramming a photo captioned last first day of college, I made my way to my first poetry class at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Mona, Kingston. Our teacher had just finished dishing out copies of the syllabus when I spotted her seated on the other end of the lecture room. As Dr. Morrison extolled her love for poetry, the definition of poetry that formed and stuck in my mind was the beauty of that girl seated at the other side of the room, the beauty of C—not her real name (lol).
Later that night, I would visit SR, one of my friends in our study abroad group, and spend a good fraction of an hour telling her how on fleek girls in my poetry class were. I would describe C’s hair—that full, dark, sometimes curly Jamaican Afro—which complemented her finely chiseled face that in turn housed her perennially-on-point eyebrows just above her big eyes, and her hearty, heavenly smile. I would talk of C’s face: so symmetrical I felt it should have replaced Angelina Jolie’s as the archetypal specimen in those Social Psychology textbooks from sophomore year. I would wax on about C’s smile and her wise—and calculatedly sparse—contributions in class that made terms like critical analysis, alliteration and similes sound so surprisingly sweet and sexy, like salt turned sugar. It had been a minute since I was ‘in love’ but now I was crushing helplessly on this Jamaican girl, just a week after touching down at Norman Manley International Airport.
*cues dat bwoy Wyre’s chune cal’d Kingston Girl pon di Country Bus Riddim*
“Lovechild pon di case…
Kingston girl won’t you come take a walk with me,
(Nikupeleke hadi Kenya,
Come back home…) x 2
Take yuh to a place dat mi call mi own,
Take you pon di matatu di whole way,
Mek wi eat dat nyama choma di whole day…”
Whether or not C and I went out is not significant to this story. Anti-climax, right? Isorait, I’llgerrarahia in a few but the ‘key takeaway’ from the last paragraph is that as I write this, more than half a year since that last first day and about four months after I left Jamaica, C is one of the few Caribbean citizens I actually have a ‘shared private language’ with. (‘Shared private language—SPL—is this personal concept I have just coined to make sense of that accumulated database of shared conversations and experiences that makes you feel you can communicate with a specific person effortlessly, but a third party would never get it.) Awesome, right? The lexicon of our SPL with C includes the blooming of the poui trees at the UWI Mona campus and a lovely Velma Pollard poem on the blooming of the poui trees at the UWI Mona campus.
Part II: Pull up Selecta.
In March, in our poetry class with Dr. Morrison, we read Pollard’s poem: While the Sap Flows. I am the only non-Jamaican in the class and I’m thankful the class is always gracious enough to slow down and explain to me patois words and cultural knowledge of The Island of Wood and Water. Take the other week for instance. The class helped me understand Dutty Tough, a poem written in patois by one of the greatest Jamaican poets, Miss Lou Bennett. I am sure you’d have laughed, as my classmates did, at the cross between my Kenyan/Gikuyu accent and patois as I recited: “You ask smaddy how dem do/ Dem fraid you teck it tell dem back/So dem nuh answer yuh…And mi cyaan believe it/ Mi seh mi cyaan believe it.” Of course, there is a feeling of love and privilege that comes with the assistance but, doubly, there is a sense of ‘outsiderness’ that comes with it too.
On this evening we analyse Pollard’s poem, it seems I am the only one who has never experienced the poui trees come alive in Mona. Poui: to a Kenyan this sounds like an onomatopoeic word for the sound a Kenyan mother would produce, her hand frantically fanning her nose, after smelling the bumbum of her crawling son who has soiled himself. Poui, puiii, pwiiii. But given the way Pollard (who taught at UWI for a long time and who graces one of our poetry classes as a guest lecturer) uses it as a strong, beautiful and resilient symbol in her poem, it takes on a new meaning.
“C, I really want to see these pouis bloom. Now.”
C says I have to wait till April when the pouis will be in bloom and when the many varieties of ripe mangoes will be in plenty. In my head: C, can you make these pouis bloom like you, now?
Anyway, April doesn’t take long to arrive. April nuh linga mi seh. I love taking long walks alone; and on the first Sunday afternoon in April, with temperatures hitting high twenties, I don a light t-shirt, a pair of shorts, some comfy Sandals, then sling my large headphones across my ears. Turn up the music. I am told walking helps digestion; looks like walk-dancing up the main road past the Ring Road off the Northern gate towards Papine and back to my studio using a different route will catalyse the digestion of the coco bread, beef patty and sorrel I had for lunch.
As a lover of traveling, I have seen many beautiful things around the world; Mona poui trees in bloom are very close to the on top of that list. Now let me do you the injustice of under-describing the scene to you. As if on cue, they all bloom together, just like the mango trees seem to bring forth fruit together. Lining up different paths and rings, the pouis paint the whole campus yellow, almost overnight. The yellow flowers seem to overpower the green leaves and the branches and the trunks; the whole tree looks yellow.
I wonder what my friend CB, back in my college in the States, who wears yellow shoes and has a yellow backpack, would think of them. So I take some snapshots to send her later. She loves them. What of another friend, TT, who started a natural hair blog and christened it Craving Yellow. Wouldn’t her heart’s cravings all be sated upon seeing rows upon rows of the yellow blooming poui trees? How many selfies would she take next to the splendid crowns of the poui trees—whose shapes kinda take after C’s Afro—and how many ‘groundies’ would she take lying on the thick yellow carpets that have formed below every poui tree, yellow flowers raining on her? I think she still needs to keep craving yellow to keep her creative juices flowing, so maybe let me not indulge her cravings with blooming poui pics.
Come to think of it, I am in the process of blooming too. Or maybe I’m just ‘adulting’. At this point, I am almost 22, graduating from college in a month. So during this poui walk in Mona, many items cross my mind. Among them, one seems unavoidable in this adult life that I am hesitantly getting myself into: rejection. I wonder why we rarely talk about it yet it is so commonplace and so irredeemably painful every time it happens.
I remember in one of my Psychology classes, we learnt that rejection hurts the same way, psychologically and physiologically, as physical pain—the latter say from a Kenyan mother spanking her son after fanning her nose. Yet pharmaceutical companies are making billions selling antidotes for physical pain and no one cares about developing painkillers for rejection. You know, I keep applying for jobs and keep getting rejected. I hate phone interviews and I hate writing fake cover letters with vacuous jargon and I hate rejection e-mails teeming with niceties so fake they are laughable (sijui we wish you the best in your professional endeavours bluh bluh bluh; Bruh you don’t, why lie!) and I hate people who barely know me asking me, “Soooo…what is your plan after college?” I feel like asking them, “Soooo caring Sir, before I answer that, what is your plan after death again?” Buh yuh know what, fuck all dat, I would rather write funny and creative satirical articles on Habare. My biggest wish is that my writing blossoms like these poui trees, every day. When my friend ST asked me the other day if I am still applying for jobs, I offhandedly replied, “I did for a couple and then I got bored.” True story. An analogous story, but for another day, is one of blooming as a black man without a father, and not loving the vacuous jargon of lust masquerading as love…yet facing rejection all the same.
Have you ever sat across a person and thanked them, silently, for nicely saying no to you some years earlier? If you haven’t, you really should. It feels amazingly good. Spiting them back might be part of the joy, but if they were genuinely nice in their rejection, most likely it won’t. Maybe you’ll have gotten your hands on those “painkillers for rejection.” And maybe you’ll have cut through the veneer of wanting them for what they can be to you or what they can give to you, to really seeing them truly and loving them still, more.