Guyana – Snake Skin (11)

The next few poems I am going to share are set in Guyana, a tiny country in South America where I lived for about six months until my life was changed forever. Though some of my memories of this place are tragic, most of them are amazing and I treasure them beyond what words can describe.

My memories of Guyana are intense and frenzied, bloated against the rest of my past. It is a place that I will never forget and that I never want to forget. One thing I have learned about memories is it is impossible to separate the good for the bad and choose which ones to keep. Some memories are sneaky, and they will climb into the present without warning. Some you can leave behind physically, but they will follow you wherever you go. The following is a poem that I wrote about a weekend trip to the beach:


On the way back from the beach
tiptoeing through this coconut graveyard
flip-flops pinched between fingers
because it’s easier to dance barefoot

He said, miss, you gon’ leave and forget we.
You ain’t never coming back.

Halfway between home and all day
running dizzy on the beach
stomach sick with too much ginnup flesh sucked from bone
teeth stained yellow with curry and cheeks
turned purple with ducking down in the river racing
to see who could hold their breath longer

The day still stuck in her hair and washed
pink all over her,
her flip-flops two watermelons
dragging from her fingers
she opened her mouth to protest
but her tongue lay curled up sleeping
deferred to her teeth
who sucked the spit slow clean from her lips

Miss, you don’t know nothing.
you gon’ go back and you ain’t never think of we again.

All arms and legs stretched thin like chewed bubble gum
his body bent with broken breath and too many words collected
eyes stuffed full with so many stories
she worried sometimes that the seams would rip
and his eyes would spill forever

Miss watch!

A ghost lay on the ground
its body crunched like a fistful of paper
belly full of sand and the tip of her toe
cut through yesterday’s bones

Ain’t you never seen a snake skin before miss?

the silhouette of a snake big enough to wrap
around her neck and steal breath with one squeeze
she crouched, looked into where his eyes might be
considered asking if he missed his skin
if hours later he froze with nostalgia about the layers left behind
and wished he could run as he slid back to the place
where his body suddenly collapsed in the middle of the road
tried to scrape up the bits of self as disposable
as eyelashes without wishes
before slithering home to a lover lost
who slams the door in the face of this sudden stranger

you know miss, them snakes
they kill you in one bite
they all over the place
you got to watch where you going

She reached out and grabbed a fingerful of him
slipped his yesterday skin into her pocket
pressed him deep inside until dropped memories and creek water
glued her pants to her thigh

Don’t forget, I beat you, Salliem
I held my breath for sixty-seven seconds underwater.
New record.

That ain’t nothing, miss, he said
I just let you win.
I can just keep on holding it for as long as I want
keep on holding it until I decide to let go.

The next morning she dumped yesterday’s clothes in a bucket
filled halfway with soap because more bubbles equals more clean
and she soaked her clothes faded
turned her pockets inside out
scrubbed them paper thin
then hung her pants in the sun to dry.

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