“The Sacred Wash” by Jerrice J. Baptiste; “On Lisa’s Mantel” by Darlene Taylor; “The Ancestress” by Dianalee Velie
“The Sacred Wash” by Jerrice J. Baptiste
The women stretch their clothes on the line in the circular sun, tied between two Grenadia trees.
It’s noon, and the wash by hand is complete. Sweat drips, their moumous cling to their backs.
The waterfall from the mountaintop invites them to swim for a moment, a vibrant song on lips
thanks the waterfall for flowing. Each woman gets out of the water with a helping hand from
another. Heat of sun dries their moumous quickly on their bodies and their wise faces glow.
Homemade Grenadia juice in a jug and water from a blessed well is shared. The two elders with
gray hair drink first. They take three sips, the jugs are passed to the right on to the next woman,
completing the circle of eight. They gather their sandals, and tie on their blue or white
headscarves before they sit woven baskets. The elders lead the way home through the woods of
the mountain. Before sundown, they will make the same trip back in the cool shade to gather sun
rays hiding in clothes.
– Previously published by Yale Review
I grew up in a creative community with artists and poets in Haiti. I love writing about simple traditions. “The Sacred Wash” shows us how to be connected as women. – Jerrice J. Baptiste
Read Cassandra Lane’s full “From Me to You” homage to Toni Morrison here.
I am an advocate for cultural arts and build connections with people using literature as a framework for cultural exchange. My work has appeared in Kinfolks Quarterly and Blackberry: a magazine, Public History Commons, a KY Stories anthology of Southern writing, and the magazine of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Among other things, I currently serve on the board with A Room of Her Own Foundation. – Darlene Taylor
“The Ancestress” by Dianalee Velie
If in the twilight of memory we should
meet once more, we shall speak again
together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
I wish I could tell you, from the sepia colored photo at which you stare,
my life with your grandfather was happy;
that I forgot the color of my skin;
that I forgot I was once his slave.
I wish I could tell you I raised thirteen children to full adulthood, but I can’t.
Your father, the sweetest, and the youngest of my four surviving children,
possessed my dense, green eyes, blazing with
all the colors of my homeland, a land of a proud people.
But, I will speak to you, not of weakness, but of strength.
In the country of my birth, the land you now call Ethiopia,
we believed a spirit only answers when called.
You have resurrected my soul.
Your eyes have the shape and color of mine,
your children the curl of my hair.
Future grandchildren may one day wear my coffee colored skin,
longing for the warmth of a night air felt only in their dreams,
my spirit dancing in their veins.
My homeland was warm and abundant;
we had not yet heard of famine.
My valley grew rich with the rains
and our tables were always full.
The desert stretched out before us,
an eternal mystery to our minds until
men, with skin lighter than ours, but baked by the sun,
thundered across the desert, one with their animals,
but of lesser heart.
They stole many young girls that day.
I was bound for servitude;
freedom now only in my brain;
my beloved land only in my heartl.
Of my capture, there is little I remember;
the Gods give us strange, mysteriously needed gifts.
We traveled by land and by sea,
by horseback and by camel.
The air became thin and I held my breath,
hoping each one would be my last,
until I was handed to your grandfather.
His name was Ghaspar.
In my land, the name, Ghaspar, was that of a wise old king.
Your grandfather: neither wise nor regal.
He had cruel thin lips and eyes that undressed me.
He possessed my body but never my spirit.
We crossed the ocean to a new land called America
and once again strange words surrounded me.
I learned this new language and soon had four young children.
I began to tell my babies stories about my country,
longing for the land of my birth,
singing them my mother’s lullabies
and searching your father’s green eyes.
For there I saw my birth, my mother, my father, and my sisters:
my paradise. I began to know, in this life, I would find no peace.
I became indifferent to my surroundings.
I soon refused to speak.
My silence enraged him. Then, he put me away.
Then, I ended my life.
My spirit now dances, wild and carefree.
I am everywhere now, my essence
is in your very bones,
You must allow me to tell you more:
it is the story of my life.
My mother, in the land of my youth,
sang to me the poetry of
the poetry of wax and gold.
Through these verses, myth and legend survived.
The literal meaning we called “wax.”
The deeper secret meanings we called “gold.”
After a goldsmith had made a form of wax,
he molded the clay around it.
The clay hardened, the wax was melted,
and then liquid gold poured inside.
When the clay was cracked,
only the purity of the gold remained.
The wax and the clay will return to earth,
but the gold will continue
to be shaped and reshaped,
melted and reformed, rebirthed like our souls,
our bodies just clay vessels, good only for a certain voyage.
You have come to the mid point in your life now,
the wax melted, the clay formed, and the gold poured.
There is nothing to fear when the clay support is
cracked and discarded. Your true essence remains.
But for now, you are the keeper of the myths, the storyteller of the dreams,
the dreams of your ancestress across the seas.
Call me Azeb, the name my mother gave me,
a name meaning brilliant and free.
Call me often. I am always there, an unconscious answer to your prayers.
You bestowed, upon me, the ultimate power to be
a part of your life when you resurrected my soul.
I am from a multi-ethnic background. – Dianalee Velie