Sound The Bones
Camille U. Adams
I am a Trinidadian woman with a long maternal line. A legacy of mothers who does leave. Women who does conceive and abandon all they child. First, there is Smiley, that mother of mine. She deserted each and every daughter of hers. All five. Then there is Theresa, Smiley’s mother. She who discarded her own mix of sons and daughters in her time. And also, before her, there is Theresa’s mother. The Carib woman. She a descendant of the original Amerindian people in our isles. This Carib woman who, too, walked away from Theresa when her daughter was but a child.
Or is that fair?
When I ask, they does just say the Carib mother died. This mother mother mother about whom they does close they eyes. This Carib mother of Theresa’s, antecedent of our bloodline. The Carib woman about whom they does only whisper when I inquire.
They say she was wild. She foot too hot. Too much man she like. She cyan settle and take she time. Tiefing husband from angry wife. From badjohn spouses wielding knives. This Carib mother who was young and died. In the 1930s, when Theresa was still a child.
But Caribbean scholars say there was a hookworm infestation ravaging Grenada’s isle. Burrowing tunnels through the population. Commandeering lives. Six-feet into the reeking, faeces-infested soil. Dirt from which the worms’ eggs rise into the bare feet soles of those made to toil. Those made to labour under British control. Labour without getting rest and respite for being tired. Made to toil without getting reprieve for being milked by the equator’s fire. Safe miles away from the King Georges sitting on the greedy throne of empire.
So was this how she really died? This young Carib mother mother mother of mine. From an island-wide worm infestation fatally dire?
Jstor says 1930s Grenada was a breeding ground for malaria. Before sweating, red-faced appointees from the Crown were dispatched to come down. And pass a new public health ordinance. And craft drains and gutters so that when it rain and groundwater splutter it would run. So that water would not sit down and lounge like pond scum and putrefy. And breed larvae. And feed big big mosquito swarming to buzz and fly. And bite banana planters. And spread disease. And kill cocoa dancers. And cut into the number of Black and Brown feet able to turn cocoa in the sun into the chocolate gold those hungry British royalty want.
So, was it malaria then? Was it actually a mere mosquito bite that removed my young Carib mother mother mother from her child? A mother unable to fight and survive a shivery fever. One that would take her away from Theresa. From a little daughter left to forever grieve her.
EBSCO says the rivers and springs and water supply of Grenada’s isle were open to pollution. Because there was no hole-in-the-ground latrine accommodation. No hygienic situation made for the poor peasant population. That mass of people with skin-colour exclusion from those privileged with a little more money. Privileged with a little better housing. The privileged living down in the capital of St. Georges. Privileged with better plumbing.
While the peasant farmers of corn, of cane, of Grenada famous spice live up in the bush of the countryside. Where these thousands of peasant farmers had just two three, shared, wood-shack latrines in common spots they could use. If they were even excused, if they were even afforded time. If they were even accorded a break from working the land to harvest the crops and pence and pounds the British monarchy required.
Thus, these pollution-exposed peasant farmers acquired bloody-stool dysentery. And poisoning and diarrhoeal sickness. Illness felling thousands coming to lie blank-eyed under buzzing flies on British-coffers enriching land. The cremating sun bearing witness. This before the labour force sickness began to too deeply ravage the colonisers’ profits. Only then the Crown decide best a sanitation department establish. To lengthen the lives of those who supplied nutmeg to the gluttonous castles of the British.
Was it this? Was it dysentery that plunged the Carib mother into the grave’s abyss? Was this Carib mother racked with mucous, explosive diarrhoea, vomiting, and cramping fits? Could Theresa’s Carib mother actually have been among those who from dysentery died? This young Carib mother of a little girl child. This Carib mother of Theresa, my grandmother. Theresa who grew up and still cried. Theresa who, when she was little more than a baby, lost her mummy. Theresa who all in her old-age 70s still grieved for want of a home and security.
Theresa, this left-behind child of the Carib mother who died. Theresa who then mature into a certain type. The kind of a particular bent of mind visiting obeah women aplenty. Theresa using up all she little money. Theresa still paying obeah women in her pension years to secure the small Chantimelle brick-by-brick hilltop house for she. Theresa paying obeah woman to anchor it in she name properly. Anchor it, not in courts, but spiritually. Anchor it against the last of Theresa’s ex-husbands a-many. This last greedy Mr. G who own half the land and half the shack. And who wouldn’t leave.
Caribbean historians say 1930s Grenada had medical practitioners, you know. The British Caribbean health services had a few private practices and government medical officers across the colonial archipelago. But that was for pappy show.
Grenada small, yes, to us today with cars and buses. Those of us who don’t get just how wutless it is for the Crown to set up one little piece a hospital. Down in St. Georges capital. And pepper a couple dispensaries in places they deemed more rural. And have the gall to say, you providing the best technology and medical access of the day.
The ‘best access’ to colonised people still forced, in practicum, in reality, to rely on theyself. To rely on bush metsin, local healers, and obeah women not to die. Rely on they own passed-down knowledge not to expire from injuries caused from feeding cane into the fire. Injuries from holding bamboo stalks and baskets for 14 hours of reaching higher into the pillaged branches of trees growing bounty being shipped over the Caribbean Sea.
Our lands’ nourishing bounty being packed and exported while the labourers eat starchy yam, sweet potato, breadfruit, and high-sodium saltfish. Day after innutritious day. Developing diabetes. Developing hypertension they had was to treat with herbs and jumbie they meet and to whom they pray. Since the benevolent British subject medicine was out of reach they could ever pay.
So, was Theresa’s young Carib mother one whose existence was a mere documental statistic? A mere number British archive colonial logs heartlessly tick? Just another British subject borne away by de sugar or de salt? A whole life brought to a halt by improper access to care? By medicine priced too dear. By being treated with a little caraili bush, a little senna pods. Herbs fighting the odds. Bush by which high blood pressure cannot be defeated. This Carib mother passing down an intolerance of doctors to whose offices Theresa never retreated.
Doctors Theresa never greeted when the daily bottle of rum began eating away at her teeth. At her receding gums and the plumpness in her cheeks. And the long, soft hair she could no longer keep. Shorn and forlorn when I saw her in the hillside house standing, stooped, less than five feet. Less than 100 pounds, sitting around in a permanent nightie. This mother mother, my granny.
Theresa who used to love anything leopard-print holding her lush curves tightly. This Theresa who used to dance and laugh and cackle sprightly. Before the spirits of the bottle throttle her will to leave Grenada and roam.
Like she used to. Theresa restless, haunted, without a home. Dragging her different-father children from pillar to post. From Windrush England, to Canada, chasing a man and a job. Back to Grenada. In embarrassing poverty. To another needed partner. Hunting love. Refusing ever to be alone. This Theresa who made daughters who’re her clones.
A bloodline of women accepting kicks and cuffs and cuss and insults to keep their man in the home. A legacy of mothers throwing away their children, sacrificing them before fear-of-abandonment throne. Birthing in their inheritors the same disruptive genome. Except me, without family. Alone.
Yet, lest we forget there may be valid reasons Theresa’s mother left. Other reasons for 1930s maternal-presence theft. Colonial deaths. Our 1930s Caribbean revolutionaries in my mother mother mother country of Grenada say, “we not going to stay on them people plantations and in they factories and accept low wage.” Since across sugar and banana industries the salary numbers wouldn’t change. Workers in these exploitative, exportive industries being paid a pittance of a pence per tonne of dense sugar cane. A trifle they were told be happy for when they rightfully complained. They should be satisfied, our people were told, when the islands’ vast majority remained unemployed. Without work, begging the government to deploy jobs at $1.50 a day. Begging for $1.50 at the very least to keep starvation at bay. Begging for these people unable to afford clothes, housing, the cost of living’s sharp increase. Begging for relief from the merciless Crown taxing and imposing duties. So our people could eat.
And I pose the question, was it starvation that made her deceased? This Carib mother mother of Smiley’s? Was it a growling empty belly that released this Carib mother from this life? From her time living in an isle ruled by a kingdom that deemed its colonised people replaceable tools. Like the cutlasses, hoes, and files with which they tended crops. Plantings and tools they could not stock in their own sheds. Every produce, every product being boxed, shipped, and sped over the oceans tropical blue. All the way north to the seas’ stormy grey. Our produce being sped to royalty feasting on souls and cake.
Those vultures our revolutionaries risked jail and grave to shake. To release from our jugular. That slavering, undead British monarchy with their perpetual, rotting hunger. My Caribbean people having to burn bridges and buildings throughout our own countries. Because the shillings they were paid to prove that it’s not still slavery yet left them and their babies persistently hungry.
Was she among these? My Carib mother mother mother? Was she part of our resisting numbers? These swelling crowds risking life and limb to fight back against the British queen and king colonising us for generations. Was this Carib mother mother mother proudly swept up in the fiery revolution? Did she die a heroine, a martyred victim?
This mother mother of Smiley. This Carib mother mother mother of my ancestry. Was she killed by inhumane conditions of the time? By that which the Crown inflicted on Grenada’s people and isle? This Carib mother who is schema, who is exanthema of my bloodline. This Carib mother un-dormant in matrilineal generation after generation of mine.
Except, we’ve now catalogued all the empirical possibilities. All the methods of death that may have befallen this Carib mother in the 1930s. And we must now return to my maternal line’s actual legacy. These women’s own crafted history.
They say she was wild. This Carib mother. And that of all the reasonable colonised ways to die. Of all the rational ways to fight. Of all the respectable enemies against whom to aim malice and spite. It was her child’s presence that this Carib mother least liked.
It was her child, Theresa’s, presence this Carib mother fled. Taking to the crocus bag beds of various men across the isle. Men whose vengeful wives displaced the life she so fruitlessly led. Instead of choosing paths less futile. Less men for whom she bled.
They say she was wild. And didn’t keep no good company. Those remaining behind her who had not a sorrowful word to speak at her send off when her body was lain in that fetid, hookworm earth, so soft. So crumbly in the cane-coarsened hands of those who scattered dirt over her remains. Bearing dust to dust aloft, over this hot-foot Carib mother tiefing everybody man. This Carib mother leaving behind a girl-child lost and wan. This Carib mother leaving Theresa to her own strict mother’s care. The strict grandmother from whom Theresa learnt not love, but fear.
The strict grandmother who became Theresa’s mother about whom I hear. When I ask for the family tree to be made clear. Me asking Smiley, that mother of mine. That mother of mine I had before she abandoned me. Smiley leaving her each and every daughter behind. As is these non-mothers’ tendency.
That mother of mine running to New York City without her children she left in Trinidad when she decide to save her own life. When this used-to-be mother of mine decide she alone needed to survive. Smiley deciding she alone would thrive away from the man she choose to marry. The man with whom in marriage she chose to tarry as he beat her to the living-room, bedroom and kitchen floor every time. His floors over which Smiley shrieked for my help as she crab-walked. Smiley pleading mercy from my father’s fists and kicks on her spine.
Me asking Smiley about this family tree. Smiley, that oldest daughter of Theresa. Smiley, who is her mother’s replicated mind. Me, flying to Grenada, directly asking Theresa – my grandmother – for information brined.
These mother mothers revealed to me, flickeringly. These mother mothers shown to me, who must fill in the gaps in the story. Me, who must fill in the lapse in Theresa’s soused and doused, alcohol-sieved memory. These mother mother mother life stories told to me who quarries. Me, who visits Grenada’s village of Chantimelle for myself.
Me, who walks the paths where all those unmothering wild women’s footsteps were felt. This original birthplace beheld by me. Me, who returns to the root to see where the life of Theresa, my mother’s mother, came untucked like a ramffle polyblend sheet. A sheet lifted from under the mattress corners of an abandoned existence that would never again lie down neat.
This Theresa who became her own princess bed’s irritating pea. This Theresa, borne of the wild Carib mother, who then herself chose to become a fertile seed. A propagation in my destructive mother mother mother family tree.
Those mother mother mothers surviving Indigenous genocide, African slavery, Caribbean colonialism. To produce my ancestry.
But some encased kernels should expire. Some should die. Unmothering borne haywire through this bloodline of harmful women making cruel choices every time. Chasing men, chasing rum, chasing ideas of freedom across longitude and latitudinal lines. Destructively abandoning their daughters to pine. Chasing wutlessness and infatuations before which they show no spine. Generation after generation giving rise to a woman choosing to discard her offspring. Leaving them behind.
Till today, unlike my sisters so inclined and themselves continuing the legacies of unmothering in this bloodline, I alone stand opposed to a dynasty of deserting women who shoulda never make child. I, gourdless woman. Unfallow ground for the asphyxiating roots of this family line.
Me, a sourcing woman, who will never bear mine.
Camille U. Adams is a Trinidadian poet and memoirist who writes about the Caribbean, parental abuse, and nature. She has an MFA from CUNY, is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in a programme in Florida, enjoys teaching CNF, wants a fat puppy, and is perpetually in search of Home. Camille is a memoir reader at Split Lip Magazine and spends too much time on Twitter where she can be found at @Camille_U_Adams.
© Variant Literature Inc 2023