To get to the usefulness in a calabash, you must pick the green fruit;
it may be above your reach
but stretch a little.
Hold it carefully, then slowly saw its guts
open. A brown calabash will shatter under the torture
but the green
holds its shape,
endures all violation. Let the rancid emotions spill.
Hollow the halves of the gourd, scrape until it feels
it has nothing left to give: then put it in the sun to dry.
When the sun has baked the shell
into a corpse
brown as Bagotville canals,
it is ready.
Dip it into water: drink. Bathe. This is what a calabash is good for.
Calabashes have been found
offering their zombie services in kitchens,
bedrooms and bathrooms
in holy rites.
Drafted in as wash basins,
holders for herbs and fruit, gourds to wash fellow dead;
vessels for sweat rice, tie foot and other obeahs.
And even in abandoned houses you may find a cracked calabash,
face down but still standing guard,
and filled with nothing more than memory.
I once saw a calabash
balance herself on the road,
ignoring cars that flashed past,
sauntering school children.
This calabash wasn’t a young one. Her unclean edges rounded out
like her speech
like her brown, stiff curves. She wasn’t young.
She was tipping to one side, showing
entirely too much
speckled leg and bumsee.
This calabash was coasting. Breezing out.
Indecent blank eyes sliding
down my embarrassment for her.
What happens when a calabash is no longer young?
No longer freshly green;
smelling her own ripe
stink wafting up from
between her legs. No longer tauntly naïve,
when she can no longer taste saltlessness
on her skin?
What happens when a calabash develops a little spice
on her tongue? When she balances herself at the roadside:
Speckled skin and hardened eyes.
My great-grandfather’s second wife
was not an obeah woman,
But when she could not
bend my great-grandfather –
the war hero, the knotty porkknocker, the village overseer –
When she could not bend
this purple-heart old man to her will,
when she could not divide him
from his daughters
(don’t mind that these were Daisy’s daughters,
born from bauxite blast)
When she could not convince him that
his favourite granddaughter – my mother –
was trying to poison him
with fish tea and mettem.
When she could not stop him from
from riding his own bicycle
in his own village
in his old gardening clothes
She took a long-suffering calabash
and used it to perfume rice
with her 70-odd year essence.
If Cousin Ronald hadn’t caught her at it,
Gershom might have boiled down
and become the house boy she wanted.
The sweat rice failed;
after a few tepid years
she packed up back to Barbados.
He never said a word.
15 May 2017