Caliban Cimarrón by Orlando Ricardo Menes
I loved Miranda for her virtuosities:
healer of smallpox and yaws
using manchineel blood, seamist, ground shark spines,
calligrapher who named seashell
and wildflower, coralline hands loath to me
caressing quartos. The spirits blessed
her with goldenrod tresses, eyes like greenstone charms
as if she’d been born in Carib waters
rather than Navarre. Miranda might’ve been
a cacique for she snorted snuff soaked
in turtle water, told time by starlight, yet her skin
was white as cassava milk, color of angel
wings she said, untouched by Arawak
or African. Don Próspero invaded
Sirequeya with horsemen and mastiffs,
his ship’s culverins firing on our long canoes,
Cacique Gauarionex burned alive,
my mother drowned in dolphin’s quay.
By force of arquebus
and cruxifix I became Miranda’s servant,
my sister Anacaona master’s concubine.
Self-taught, I played vihuela
and sackbutt while Miranda sang
canticles to chastity,
cashew-bird’s trills and whistles.
“You are a savage,” she said, “unless
Christian husbandry tames your instincts.”
Ungrateful girl. When she couldn’t sleep
– excess of phlegm – I whistled Carib melodies,
rocking Miranda as Sycorax did to me.
One night – she was seventeen –
I hid beneath her hammock
and dreamed I was Knight of Calatrava:
a ruddy, red-headed Aragonese,
hero of Lepanto, our baroque palace perched
on Matanzas bluff – Emperor Philip’s gift –
hundreds of slaves darker than me cutting cane.
Cerberus chewed my buttocks;
Don Próspero flogged my head with rawhide,
rammed a singed cane-Christ down the throat.
I ran to the lagoon where Sycorax gave me life,
boas sloughing in weeds, filled Miranda’s
shallop with coconuts – water and meat –
paddled westward to Cubanacán,
land of cimarrones who command mountains.
Whites cannot overcome our palisades
– indigo wood – poisoned darts, Shangó’s power.
God of fire, thunder, vengeful war,
I hear your heart when an Oyo warrior beats
the iyá drum, my scarred back tattooed
with your double-ax that cleaves the sky
hurling lightening-fire on sugar mills
and churches; your plantation Oguedé
ignites without consumption,
signalling victory. When very ripe
its fruit causes visions of Africa.
My wife Ayorinde of Yobú plays
the don-don drums praising your many names,
I place beneath Oguedé
fufú – mashed – plantain and cassava bread,
eggs fried in turtle fat, okra stew, gunpowder.
The color of smoked tamarind,
Ayorinde’s face glows in the sun
as she condiments your morning meal,
scattering purple basil and cumin seeds.
Shangó Kora, Shangó Oba Funké,
Shangó Aguá Guayé, Your kingdom
will one day spread across the Greater
and Lesser Antilles: master and slave
will dance to the three bata drums.