Friday, January 13, 2017

The Wind Beneath My Wings

The Wind Beneath My Wings
 (for those I have loved and lost)

“Did you ever know that you're my hero,
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings”
Bette Midler

Nevisian-Born Long Distance Runners, No Loneliness
(To aunt Agnes and aunt Ismay of the Willet-Hendrikson clan who passed in 2016)

My aunties died while running towards one hundred.

Both were born on the island of Nevis.
The volcanic island pushed out after hard labor,
broke from ocean with fire, lava, ash,—
93 square kilometers of land came to life.
Its sand, white, brown, black, its freshwater and hot springs,
remind inhabitants of the nature and origin of its birth.

My aunties died while racing towards one hundred.

Great aunt, Ismay a lifetime tiller of soil,
knew only land and earth,
hands black from digging,
hoeing, raking, planting and harvesting.

My aunties died while racing towards one hundred.

Aunt Agnes, too, raised on the land,
but travelled with her mom
who sought to widen her horizon on nearby St. Kitts,
and Agnes was drawn further away to the Virgin Islands
by the death of her husband
which left her alone with six children.

Great aunt, Ismay, thriving in Nevis on what the earth gave,
and aunt Agnes, lured to California by her children,
kept their faith in the healing miracles of bushes—
great aunty Ismay planted her cure-alls in a nearby plot,
aunty Agnes grew medicines in her back garden.

Great aunt, Ismay, lived for the land— lemon grass,
fever-tea, leaf, aloe, sour-sap,
cassava, sweet potato, yam, pigeon peas, mango…
In addition to a daughter and two sons,
bushes were the children of her heart.

Agnes lived with her six children and the memory of the land
and the secret bushes she tended
next to her herbs, eggplants, peppers…

My aunties died while racing towards one hundred.

Aunt Agnes shy of her 96th, aunt Ismay shy of her 97th.
There was no loneliness during their life-long race.
If we did not ask, if we did not watch and learn
they  would have died taking the secrets of distance running with them?

© Althea Romeo-Mark 14.10.2016

Agnes Daniel, my aunt. 

 /ˈniːvɪs/ is a small island in the Caribbean Sea that forms part of the inner arc of the Leeward Islands chain of the West Indies. Nevis and the neighboring island of Saint Kitts constitute one country: the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Nevis is located near the northern end of the Lesser Antilles archipelago, about 350 km east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 80 km west of Antigua. Its area is 93 square kilometers (36 sq. mi) and the capital is Charlestown.

Joy DaCosta Neumann

Saying Goodbye
(for Joy Neumann (1948-2016), from our Stammtisch, Gloria, Sylvia, Paula, and Althea)

“Take Care, see you next week.”
This is what we say
at the end of every Tuesday
when we meet.

But it is not always so.
When we said goodbye to you, dear friend,
we did not know it would be the last,
did not know your sleep
would be the endless one.

We will place an empty teacup
at the table where you sat
and told us about your adventures,
some of which we shared,
and told us stories about your family,
some of whom we have met.

With you, we were never lost
for things to chat about.
You were petite but brought us
enormous joys of laughter.

You left on a solo journey
on a Sunday night,
a journey from which
you will never return.

So we are sending
Our goodbyes and take cares,
by our messenger, the wind,
that will take them to you,
knowing that we will not see you next week.

© Althea Romeo-Mark, 2016

Lena Mark Andall, Emmanuel Mark, Althea Mark-Romeo

The Final Crossing
(for Lena Mark Andall sunrise 1934- sunset 1916)

There is no canoe,
no ceremonial death ship
to take body and soul
across the river of life.

No corpse is laid in a creek
to ensure a quick return
to the arms of nature.
The vessel is not that
of our ancient ancestors.

There is a coffin and a river of tears
and the rasps of mourning voices
drowning in the waterfall of song
that carry the dead to a new life
waiting across the river.
The dead will not envy us,
will never desire to
cross back over the river.

© Althea Romeo-Mark 06.04.14

(to my mom, Daisy Valborg Marsh Romeo and those who came before her)

My mother never used one,
she learned to cook
the way her mother taught her.
Recipes, like folktales, and
the secrets of garden bush,
carrying cures for colds,
high blood pressure, diabetes,
sleeplessness, nightmares,
and measures against restless spirits,
were passed from mouth to mouth.

Mother shared her knowledge,
the only way she knew.
Summoned to the kitchen,
I stood, watched, listened to instructions,
“Come, see how I tun’ de fungi.”

It seemed like hard work,
all that turning with a wooden stick.
Nobody should have to work so hard to make a meal.
I began to sweat before the process even started.

“Bring de water to a boil. Add salt.
Chop the okras, drop dem in de pot.
cook ‘til tender. Sprinkle in de cornmeal. Slowly!”

I stood round the kerosene stove,
shifting from foot to foot.
“See how I tun’ de fungi?”
Heat alternated with breeze
sneaking in through the kitchen door.

“Stir briskly to prevent lumping.”
Mama’s plump, tanned hand churned,
arms swiftly dispensed of sweat
trickling down her nose from forehead,
threatening to become an ingredient.

It seemed forever, the churning,
and watching  cornmeal’s
sputtering plop, plop,
spitting and spurting
like nature’s hot water geyser.

Once, my eyes strayed out the window
at Mr. Peters straddling his donkey downhill.
A stinging pinch to my ear
brought me back to the lesson on hand.

“See how I tun’ de fungi.”
See how I add de butter? Stir!
Look ‘pon you.
How you goin’ get a husband?


I received a cookbook the day I married.
A wedding present from a friend,
it became my kitchen buddy.

Recipes now committed to memory,
cookbooks sit on a shelf with
old English and American classics
I promise to re-read one day.

My daughters watched my cooking in passing,
made quick observations, did some tasting.
On their bookshelves, a book on Caribbean cooking
serves as a bookend to MLA Guide to Writing
and Modern German Literature.

Recipes today are just a mouse-click away.
I have not forgotten to share secrets
of bushes in back gardens,
measures against restless spirits
and things that must remain unwritten.

© Althea Romeo-Mark, 2015

After Supper
(for Gilbert, the story teller)
Dinner is done.
There is much laughter
while papa doles out
delicious dessert,
a sweet surprise
we look forward to
in the dark tropical night.

Papa’s words loop into
the melding of a tale.
His tongue is a click-clacking
knitting needle of delight.

He talks about a jumbi whose voice was
like plane crashing against the hillside.
The brazen spirit blocked his path
as he walked home from his farm late one night.

His hands dance,
body jerks back and forth
in showing and telling.
We become his marionettes.

The stitched-up story
is followed by nightmares,
and bed-wetting,
the chamber pot
too far under the bed.

Today we, too,
hold our audience captive
in a net of words.

Some of Papa’s stories, read at bedtime,
are found in books of
selected Caribbean folktales—
Once upon a time there was
a clever spider called Bro ‘Nansi,
being a favorite.

© Althea Romeo-Mark, 17.10. 15

Aunt Agnes celebrating one of her 90s birthdays-still running then.

Lena Andall, too, was a woman of the land. Here is an avocado tree on her land.

Visiting Joy Neumann in England in 2011. With fellow teacher Sylvia Greber (subject, German)

To our ancestors who kept the Anansi stories flowing despite being separated from West Africa, their place of origin.  My father was one of those who kept up the oral tradition he inherited from his Antiguan mother.

Why Anansi Has Eight Thin Legs
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a spider named Anansi. Anansi's wife was a very good cook. But always, Anansi loved to taste the food that others in the village made for themselves and for their families.
One day, he stopped by Rabbit's house. Rabbit was his good friend.
"There are greens in your pot," cried Anansi excitedly. Anansi loved greens.
"They are not quite done," said Rabbit. "But they will be soon. Stay and eat with me."
"I would love to, Rabbit, but I have some things to do," Anansi said hurriedly. If he waited at Rabbit's house, Rabbit would certainly give him jobs to do. "I know," said Anansi. "I'll spin a web. I'll tie one end around my leg and one end to your pot. When the greens are done, tug on the web, and I'll come running!"
Rabbit thought that was a great idea. And so it was done.
"I smell beans," Anansi sniffed excitedly as he ambled along. "Delicious beans, cooking in a pot."
"Come eat our beans with us," cried the monkeys. "They are almost done."
"I would love to Father Monkey," said Anansi. And again, Anansi suggested he spin a web, with one end tied around his leg, and one end tied to the big bean pot.
Father Monkey thought that was a great idea. All his children thought so, too. And so it was done.
"I smell sweet potatoes," Anansi sniffed happily as he ambled along. "Sweet potatoes and honey, I do believe!"
"Anansi," called his friend Hog. "My pot is full of sweet potatoes and honey! Come share my food with me."
"I would love to," said Anansi. And again, Anansi suggested he spin a web, with one end tied around his leg, and one end tied to the sweet potato pot.
His friend Hog thought that was a great idea. And so it was done.
By the time Anansi arrived at the river, he had one web tied to each of his eight legs.
"This was a wonderful idea," Anansi told himself proudly. "I wonder whose pot will be ready first?"
Just then, Anansi felt a tug at his leg. "Ah," said Anansi. "That is the web string tied to Rabbit's greens." He felt another. And another. Anansi was pulled three ways at once.
"Oh dear," said Anansi as he felt the fourth web string pull.
Just then, he felt the fifth web string tug. And the sixth. And the seventh. And the eighth. Anansi was pulled this way and that way, as everyone pulled on the web strings at once. His legs were pulled thinner and thinner. Anansi rolled and tugged himself into the river. When all the webs had washed away, Anansi pulled himself painfully up on shore.
"Oh my, oh my," sighed Anansi. "Perhaps that was not such a good idea after all."
To this day, Anansi the Spider has eight very thin legs. And he never got any food that day at all.

Althea Romeo-Mark
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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Things That Go Beautifully Together

There are two things that go beautifully together, my poem "Rope," and a postcard replica of Gloria Lynn's painting "Mother and Daughter ("Mère et fille").

Mother and daughter, Gloria Lynn
I bought the above postcard along with other postcards and paintings by local artists on a visit to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, in 2009.   Today in a "light-bulb moment" I realized, that my poem "Rope" which is about the "tug-of-war" in a mother-daughter relationship, written in 2015, and the painting, "Mother and Daughter," were destined to meet.


The tug-of-war,
the pulling of  knotted rope,
the stretching ends,
the fraying ends,
fingers red and burning
from holding on,
from waiting to see
who is first to cave.

Who will lose their grip?
Mother or daughter?

It is not a matter
of winning or losing.

It is the Mother who must let go,
reject the temptation to throw a lasso.

The falling daughter
will rise into her own.

She will carry her mother’s cautions
in memory like a suitcase
filled with clothes,
and take them out to wear,
one by one,
to see how well they fit.

Beneath them all—
her own long cord,
the secret binding,
the thickened string,
the rope she, too, will pull
when the tug-of-war comes.

© Althea Romeo-Mark, 2015

According to an interview, “ANOTHER ISLAND, ANOTHER LIFE” published in The New York Times by Esther Fein in May 13, 1984, the Lynns' home was on Long Island for more than 20 years. Mr. Lynn was an advertising executive who made the one-and-a-half-hour commute to Madison Avenue five days a week, to sit behind a drafting table. Mrs. Lynn worked at home as an interior designer, deciding between cafe curtains or pullbacks for her suburban friends' kitchens.
Now their home and their work are on this lush Caribbean island, where Mrs. Lynn paints scenes of native islanders and Mr. Lynn is a sculptor. One of their sons, Rob, 30, also lives and paints year-round on the island, in the neighboring village of Orleans. Another son, Peter, 33, divides his time between St. Martin, where he paints, and New York, where he works as a commercial artist. The third son, Bill, 35, works as a commercial artist in Montpelier, Vt.
''When we moved here, most of our friends thought we were nuts,'' said Mr. Lynn, who met his wife when they were students at the Pratt Institute of Art. ''And to be honest, being in advertising most of my life, it never dawned on me that I could make my living in the fine arts.''
The Lynns first came to St. Martin - as did some of their friends - on a package tour that included hotel, transfers and a free welcome cocktail. Their friends tried new islands each winter, but the Lynns kept returning to St. Martin.
Mrs. Lynn sometimes made short trips on her own, staying in a friend's guest house. She would spend her days at the beach and the market, watching the local women at work and in the market.
''I fell in the love with the people here,'' said Mrs. Lynn, whose paintings, washed in bright colors, have a Gauguin-like quality. ''It was as if this little seed had been planted in my head telling us that maybe we could live here, and every time I'd come down the seed would grow and grow. But I would just say to myself, 'Gloria, don't be ridiculous. You have a house and a dishwasher. You just don't do things like that.'
Read the full article:
I really do love her work.  Other examples of her work can be seen here:

I hope you love my poem "Rope" and her work, too.

"Rope" was published in DoveTales: Family and Cultural Identity: An International Journal of the Arts, published by Writing for Peace, McNaughton & Gunn,2016
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