Friday, August 5, 2016

A Chocolate Encounter

                         A Chocolate Encounter



This micro-fiction piece( short-short story) is dedicated to all exotic-looking women who have been mistaken for prostitutes while simple standing on a corner or waiting at a bus stop and minding their own business.

A Chocolate Encounter


     The wind swished leaves, swirled dust into the air and lifted skirts.  Hans stared at a pair of long brown legs as he staggered out of the bar opposite the tram stop.  His eyes crept upwards, halted at the face that could belong to any exotic place.  Its beauty, a fusion races, urged him closer.

     Seen her at that stop before, thought Hans.  Makes me think of chocolate. Is she’s as sweet as she looks? Face flushed with wine, the bony man stumbled across the street.

     “Hello, Miss” He said tentatively.  He rocked unsteadily on the sidewalk’s edge.

     “Hello!”

     “Waiting for someone?”

     “Sort of.”  Small eyes, full strawberry-painted lips seemed to fill her brown, oval face.  Dark hair flowed to her waist.

     “How much?”

    “How much what?”  She glared at him.

    “What’s your price?”

    “You… mean…. to do you?” Her laughter rode the night wind.   Plucking a mobile phone from her purse, she spoke a strange language in a tone bordering on hysterical, then flipped the phone shut and folded her arms.  “I’ll give you an unforgettable time.”

     They waited at the bus shelter. Hans drew a cigarette out of a pack and lit it, then stared at her stern face and pouty lips, watched her fight the wind to hold her skirt down.


***

     He jumped, startled by a car’s honk when it pulled up.  The woman rushed to the car, leaned into the window and spoke, hands waving in the air, voice rising and falling like a roller coaster.

     “Come,” she said, sweetly.  “Get into the back. Meet my girlfriends.”

     “God damned.  So many chocolate faces.” Hans’ face lit up; every nerve lit up, too.

     But then they began to pummel his head, stomach and crotch and slowly the faces melted.

(c) 2007 Althea Romeo-Mark



Interesting. Are we so easily pacified?


Micro-fiction is a subset of flash fiction—those super short stories typically told in 1,000 words or less. Definitions vary, but for the most part, micro-fiction is any story told in 300 words or less, and could even be as short as a few words.


I was encouraged by my friend and fellow writer, Irene Kaesermann, to participate in a fifty-word (50) short story contest that was sponsored by The Daily Telegraph in the UK in 1999. To my surprise, my fifty word story, "The Claim" was published in the anthology, MINI SAGAS.















Not only was I published in MINI SAGAS, but my short story was featured alongside other short-shorts written by Salman Rushdie,Doris Lessing, Ralph Fiennes and other internationally respected writers and artists of specific trades. Their pieces were commissioned, of course.














Interested in writing short-shorts. Have a look at these websites:

http://www.eadeverell.com/100-days-flash-fiction-prompts/
http://fictionsoutheast.org/7-tips-for-writing-flash-fiction/
https://nancystohlman.com/2013/02/19/30-flash-fiction-prompts/



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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Kind of Refugee/Living in Limbo

A Kind of Refugee/Living in Limbo



Front row: Cassandra Mark, Malaika Mark, Francine Morris, Michael Mark. Standing: Althea Mark, kneeling, Emmanueal Mark











Our children, Malaika, Cassandra, Michael and I arrived in London, May 1990, having flown out of Robertsfield Airport on one of the last flights leaving Liberia.

I could still hear the warning issued at the last social event held at the American Embassy: All American citizens should evacuate the country immediately. The neatly folded map, which pinpointed safe houses if the rebel army rolled into the city sooner than expected, was now a crumpled piece of paper.  



We disembarked holding one suitcase each.  I was in charge of passports, birth and marriage certificates and diplomas, now more valuable than gold.

Aldin Mark, my husband (Emmanuel)’s sister and resident of London since 1960, met us at Heathrow airport. She took us to her home on Ifley Road, Hammersmith, within walking distance from Shepherd’s Bush in London.  It would be the first in a series of temporary homes.  I shared a room in the crammed, narrow, two-story apartment with my three children.  When my husband arrived six weeks later via Sierra Leone, Guinea and Belgium, he joined us in the bedroom where two single beds joined together was our private space.


 Soon after Emmanuel’s arrival, we went to the Citizens Bureau where our status was established and legal aid provided. My husband was born in Grenada, a former British colony, and still held a British passport which allowed him to obtain British passports in Liberia for our children.



Dr. Emmanuel Mark, king of his castle in Liberia
We were placed in a B&B in the Bayswater area. It was home until we could be resettled elsewhere. My family was assigned two rooms. My husband, I and our six year old son shared one room.  Our daughters, aged, nine and eleven, shared another.  We were ashamed to be in this position but the civil war had determined our fate. We drew solace knowing that the situation would be temporary.












Like the other families, we were seeking to begin a new life having lost all we had. We were happy to be alive. Starting again from scratch, although daunting, was a second chance. We had sacrificed everything. My husband had abandoned his medical practice which he had run with his cousin Dr. James Thomas and his wife, Gloria Thomas, a nurse; he had also vacated his teaching position at the A.M. Daglioti Medical College in Monrovia and the eight roomed home he had built.

I had given up my teaching position at the University of Liberia. I barely had time to say goodbye.  We had withdrawn our children from school and had left family and friends behind. We wanted to survive the atrocities, the shameless ethnic killings, the burning of villages and sometimes, it occupants, the gleeful killing of intellectuals and anyone for whom a grudge was enough to be sentenced to death.


Our B+B, once assigned in Bayswater, the children travelled by train to attend school.  I had  enrolled them as soon as we arrived. The younger two, Cassandra and Michael were at Brackenberry Elementary School and the older, Malaika, at St. Mark’s Anglican Secondary school in Parson’s Green.  

I worried about them. Until now I had driven them everywhere. Now, I accompanied the younger ones to school; the older child, Malaika, had adapted to travelling alone. 


The cook who dished out breakfast in the B+B on Queensborough Road, was a Jamaican immigrant. 







I remember finding this odd. Officials of Countries, where people ranted against immigrants stealing jobs, still hired immigrants to carry out delicate duties. Just as I found it odd that a Haitian once guarded our hotel room in New York when my husband was detained for not having a transit visa.  We were flying from the Caribbean via New York back to Liberia and he didn’t think he needed one.

Our fellow refugees included a Somalian family who had fled an uprising in their home; my family--my husband, Grenadian, carrying a Liberian passport, our Liberian born children and me, a US, Virgin Islander, and an Irish family. Why the Irish were placed in the B&B I never found out. Perhaps they were fleeing the Protestant/Catholic clashes in Northern Ireland.
We ate our dished out breakfast, read about the horrors that were taking place in Liberia, searched for work, shopped for clothes and books in second-hand stores, to sustain our family of five.

After three months in the B &B, we were assigned a two bedroom apartment in St. Clair’s Mansion near Shepherd’s Bush. We needed several trips by train from Queensborough Road to Hammersmith to transport our belongings. Financial assistance was expected to last until my husband and I found employment. 



 I was eager to stand on my own feet. Staying at home was not an option. I had been working since I was fourteen and very independent.  I could not conceive being dependent on my husband or a government. 

While searching for teaching job, I sought temporary work and found one at H. Samuel’s Jewellers that hired extra staff for the Christmas season.






Here I was, a trained university teacher, working at a jewellery shop, with people, for whom every second word was “fuck.” I was appalled at the language. In Liberia, people cursed when they had been provoked or angered. Here curse-words naturally attached themselves to nouns. Everyone hung out at a pub after work. I couldn’t join.  I was a mother of three with limited funds and an unemployed husband.

My husband was told that because he had a Swiss Medical degree, he was required to sit exams and to familiarize himself with British medical culture.  While contemplating his next step, he also sought temporary work and was often told he was over qualified. I remember he had applied for a vacancy at the post office and was turned down.  


I imagined the people at the head office thought he was a mad-man who fancied himself to be a medical doctor. Why would a doctor apply for a position at the post office?

 
Fullham Cross Girls' School

During my free time, I volunteered at my son’s primary school and was privileged to chaperone classes on field trips to Kew Gardens, the Natural History Museum and other places. We allowed ourselves simple pleasures and took our children to the Planetarium, Madame Tussauds, parks, zoos and fairs.  


We made small sacrifices, took advantage of the rich surroundings so that we could have a normal life, and educate our children

The New Year, 1991, brought a brighter outlook as I had been offered work as a substitute teacher at Fulham Cross Secondary School, an all girls’ school.  I was unimpressed by their lacklustre attitude towards education. Attending classes was a chore and a bore for these girls. Their goal was to finish school at the voluntary leaving age, have children or work in a shop. Students lacked motivation and teachers showed little interest. They felt these students were a lost cause.  A bright spot was the students from India and Pakistan who studied seriously. Second generation West Indian immigrants were already falling into the trap.

The urge not to fall into complacency coincided with an embarrassing encounter with a student one Saturday afternoon when I was on my way home.  She asked me if I lived in the neighbourhood. In answer, I pointed to the building in which I lived. “You live there?” I heard the emphasis on THERE. My new home was marked, a place where homeless people were housed. 


 A big scarlet H had been plastered on my forehead. I vowed to get out as soon as possible. I learned that it was an unmentionable place.  If I had known, I would have lied.

The temporary apartment at Sinclair’s Mansion had given us more room and privacy.  My job as a substitute teacher allowed me to give up the government stipend.  I felt better about myself.  I was no longer accepting handouts. It was a step away from dependence, a step away from “homeless.”

After six months we obtained British residency.  My children were settled in school—my oldest studying German.

Attending a family wedding in London
Despite my husband’s large, supportive family, whom I got to know well, and despite being surrounded by a West Indian community, I felt unsettled.  Our social rug had been snatched from under us. However, birthdays, parties and weddings helped to make us feel at home. 



London market (Hammersmith)

I wondered how these “West Indians,” who had left the Caribbean thirty years ago, still sounded like they had never left the islands. Markets and shops, run by East Indians, sold tropical food, and other familiar products. A visit to them was taking a little trip to the Caribbean or Africa.



Our children had attended a private school in Liberia and received the best education available.  In the London schools I taught, learning eagerly was discouraged by other students.  Working as a substitute teacher, I witnessed the students’ lack of will to learn and I worried about how this attitude would affect my children.  

My own previous experience with adolescents and teenage students had been discouraging. I had taught teenagers in inner city Connecticut, watched them stare out of windows despite the innovative teaching methods that had been introduced.


 One lasting impression was a student lifting a chair and threatening the classroom teacher with it.  And I had taught at Addelita Cancryn Jr. High School, a middle school in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, nicknamed “Vietnam.” The administration building at that school had been set on fire twice. Adolescent hormones were raging war. 

I had vowed not to teach that age group again.  And here I was teaching in London in an environment where students also shouted abuse at teachers. Once a student arrived drunk and had to be held up by her classmates. I later learned that her parents were alcoholics.  The last straw was a class that displayed their dislike for the presence of another substitute teacher, me, by screeching until the head master arrived. Teaching had become a nightmare which I hoped to escape.

My prayers were answered when my husband was offered a position at the University Children’s Hospital in Basel, Switzerland.  But new problems would surface in a country whose language and culture was foreign to us.






© Althea Romeo-Mark

“A Kind of Refugee: Living in Limbo,” WomanSpeak: A Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women. Ed. Lynn Sweeting. Bahamas. 2013.
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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Slice of Life Not Palatable



Brochure


The food-stained, wrinkled brochure I hold
smells of curry although rained on and dried.
It sells tropical getaways and skiing holidays.

On the cover, a man is looking
through a window at fat-leaved almond trees.
Bunched seaside grapes are green-going-on-purple.

Trees shade suntan-lotioned tourists.
Beyond, seagulls dive and splash.
Blue ocean sparkles in the sun.

I never wake up and smell roses
where I sit on a discarded drum
between scavenging and sorting.

I view an endless sea of trash.
Aluminum glints when
crossing paths with sunrays.

A mountain of metal, tins and tires rises
behind a fishless river choked with floating plastic.

No one sells these scenes.
My slice of life is not palatable.
It will never grace a brochure’s cover.




© Althea Romeo-Mark 2016




Poverty

De sun come,
idle over de mountain,
remove de shadow
from de tree limbs,
reveal de pickinagers*
playin’ in de mud,
an’ eatin’ dirt
like is ducana*
an’ saltfish,
an’ dey wishin’
dat de dirt stains
wus grease stains.

Althea Romeo-Mark, Palaver, Downtown Poets Coop, New York, 1978

*Pickinager-small children
*Ducana Antigua/Barbuda dish made of sweet potato, plantain and coconut,etc. wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked. 



ducana





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Saturday, May 14, 2016

“Cookbook” and Other Poems Published in spring 2016

“Cookbook” and Other Poems Published in Spring 2016

XX International Poetry Festival, Medellin, Colombia
It is uplifting and a blessing to see my work in print. My long apprenticeship in the art of poetry writing is finally paying off.  It is a journey that began in the early 1970 as a student at the University of the Virgin Islands

 Writing is a continuous process of learning. The more I write, the more I realize I have to learn. I try to be a better writer than the last time I wrote, and so it is a never ending challenge.  


I am competing against myself and other poets/ writers whose work I admire, whose work encourages me to push myself.

Writers' Works' Bern
I belong to a group, fellow writers and friends with whom I meet monthly and who help to make my purpose as a person and writers clearer. They come from all over the world and, like me, have settled in Switzerland. They have picked up where my mentor, Dr. Gershator, left off. We teach each other, learn from each other and break boundaries together. Without them I will not be the writer that I am today. Honest feedbacks on each other’s work, though sometimes painful, cannot be measured in gold.

I share the pages of this volume with many writers. Two of them I personally know. One is Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, a former student at the University of Liberia, where I taught English between 1976-1990, and who is now a Professor of Creative Writing at Penn State University. According to a PSU website she “is a writer, poet, scholar, public speaker and human rights activist who has used her writing talent to bring visibility to Liberian and other social issues. She is the author of four books of poetry, one children’s book, and numerous scholarly articles; her work has been translated into various languages across the world (https://wpsu.psu.edu/tv/programs/conversations/patricia-jabbeh-wesley/.”






The other writer is Irene Kaesermann who is a member of Writers’ Works Bern to which I belong. We have both been a member of this writers’ group since 1992.  Irene writes in German, her mother tongue, and English. In addition to being published in Dove Tales: An International Journal of the Arts, she is published in JIGSAW, our writers’ group anthology, KRITYA ,World Literature Today IV, Antiques and Roses and in German publications.












































The third person, who I am familiar with, but have never met, is Geoffrey Philp, an established Caribbean writer from Jamaica whose work can also be found in the Oxford Books of Caribbean Short Stories and the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Philp

DoveTalesFamilyandCultural Identity was released on May 1, 2016.  The“Family and Cultural Identity” edition features 456 pages of poetry, essays, and short stories from our 2015 Young Contest Winners, as well as our advisers, established, and emerging writers, as well as strikingly beautiful art and photography.

Contributors: Pilar Rodríguez Aranda, Cara Baker, Gary Beck, Gayle Bell, Elena Botts, Katarina Boudreaux, Jo Burns, Lorraine Caputo, Mary Carroll-Hackett, William Cass, Stephanie Cheng, Cody Conklin, Joe Cottonwood, Chella Courington, Edward D. Currelley, Lorraine Currelley, Maija Rhee Devine, Andrea W. Doray, Milton Ehrlich, Juleus Ghunta, Veronica Golos, Gabor G. Gyukics, Sam Hamill, Melissa Hassard, Yuliya Ilchuk, Shokoofeh Jabbari, Dan Jacoby, Joseph Johnson, Lyla June Johnston, Julianne Jones, Rio Jones, Irène Kaesermann, Amal Kassir, Sasha Kasoff, Debra Kaufman, Antonia Alexandra Klimenko, Ross Knapp, Robert Kostuck, Richard Krawiec, Page Lambert, Tom Larsen, Vicki Lindner, Shannon Lockhart, Djelloul Marbrook, Kathleen McGuire, Sandra McGarry, Dean Metcalf, Oleg G. Mikhailovsky, Mark Mitchell, Dean K. Miller, Chuma Mmeka, Malaka Mohammed, AH Muir, Lee Nash, Nikhil Nath, Roseville Nidea, Pattie PalmerBaker, Adriana Páramo, Rachel Pater, Jared Pearce, Simon Perchik, Richard King Perkins II, Geoffrey Philp, Thomas Piekarski, Wang Ping, David S. Pointer, Meg Pokrass, Stephen Poleskie, Laura Pritchett, Janelle Rainer, Shirani Rajapakse, Stephen Regan, Jude Rittenhouse, Althea Romeo-Mark, Matt Saleh, Terry Sanville, Howard Stein, Samantha Peters Terrell, Kelly Thompson, E. J. Tivona, Mercy L. Tullis-Bukhari, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Georgia Wilder
 Art and Photography by:
Elena Botts, Allen Forrest, Pd Lietz, Roseville Nidea, Daniel Rhodes
Editor-in-Chief: Carmel Mawle
Associate Editors: Craig Mawle, Phillip M. Richards, Melody Rautenstraus, and Willean Denton Hornbeck
Sponsored by Colgate University Research Council.
Copyright © 2016 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.
http://writingforpeace.org/1180-2/family-and-cultural-identity/

My poems featured in Dove Tales 

include "Rope," "Cookbook," and 

"Liberian Country Devil Comes to 

Town at Christmas."

Rope

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


Cookbook

I
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?

II

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



Liberian Devil Comes to Town at Christmas

The long-faced mask frowns.
Its huge O-mouth made for gobbling.
Gigantic eyes gawk at gathering crowd
round its skyscraper legs that leap
backwards and forward under spun out grass skirt.

The child’s piercing screech,
hitting and hovering on the ceiling,
drags everyone away from dinner.
Fufu and soup are left for flies to feast on

The shrieking child waits to be rescued,
while the music of merry musicians
beating drums, singing and dancing
bring Christmas cheer.

“Oh, it the country devil.
Don’t be afraid,” soothing voices say.

But in the hinterland the real country devil threatens
women, children, and the uninitiated,
cower behind closed doors.

Order is restored to the child’s world.
Hands held by ma and pa
she feels the rhythm of their hips and feet,
watches as the devil prances in the front yard.

It splays its legs high and wide
to the pat-tum, bum, pat-tum, bum of drums.
Old Man Beggar joins him, too, in the dance
for a small feast, coins and cane juice.


*Old Man Beggar –Liberian antithesis to Santa Claus. He is accompanied by drummers and doesn’t bring gifts.  But he tells stories and expects some form of a thank you in return.
*Country devil-a person in mask and wearing stilts and who is a part of a secret society that is feared by those not yet a member of it.

© Althea Romeo-Mark,  2015




Poem Published in Moko, "Camp"


Camp


We are thrown together
in this quarter where
yesterday’s news headline,
Refugee Flung from Window,”
still hangs in the air like a stench.

There is nowhere to go, nothing to do.
Our fate in the hands of authority,
we wait, hang out at the neighborhood park
like autumn leaves gathered by wind.

We read menacing messages in the scowls
of passers-by. Some circle around,
mark the territory with treads of footprints,
count down days to our departure.

They haven’t heard yet what we have been told.
This refugee housing is now official.
They will flee this neighborhood,
as if it was an “infested” place.

© Althea Mark-Romeo, 07.11.2015

 http://mokomagazine.org/wordpress/issue-8-march-2016/



I am grateful that I am featured monthly in Kwee: Liberian Literary Magazine.


Streetsweeper

In this haven I clean paths in parks, sweep streets.
Red stains splatter the ground
where berries fell after last night’s storm.

They are not the blood smears
of brothers accused of betrayal.
Hear-say alone is enough
to crush bones back home.

I joyfully sweep up berry seeds.
They are not broken fingers, or toes.

I wash the walkway, breathe in unpolluted air.
It is free of gasoline fumes spewed
by military trucks heading to frontier towns
to crush the voices of discontent.

My heart dances with joy
at the sight of red stains, not blood.

© Althea Romeo-Mark 

 Republished by Kwee 2016
First published by OFF THE COAST, Maine International Literary Journal
www. off-the-coast-com 2011


This month, the magazine features poetry by  Richard Wilson MossHebert LogerieCher AntoinetteJosiah JoekaiMohammed Donzo DolleyBaltimore C. VerdierLml ShawMatenneh-rose DunbarVarney Gean, Althea Romeo-MarkJanice Renee AlmondOppong Clifford Benjamin, and many more.... download your copies at our website. 
The most recent edition of Kwee can be download at the following website:http://fortepublishing.wix.com/llmag


I leave you with one of the last photos I took before I left St. Thomas, Virgin Islands to return to Switzerland last summer.


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