A Song for Jamaica

A kid I had never taught walked into my classroom at the beginning of last semester, looked at the bulletin boards decorated to match the colors of the Jamaican flag perched atop the filing cabinet, then the bun of braided hair atop my head, then my iPhone to see what station was playing on Pandora. He pointed his chin in my direction, smiled, and asked, “What you know about Jamaica?” Although he was across the room, I knew that the thing in the small clear bag in his hand was candied coconut, and that his grandmother had listened to Beres Hammond on the radio while she had cooked brown stew, and watched him chase a goat in the yard.

Mek me tell you what mi kno bout Jamaica, my youth.

Jamaica is mangoes—Julie, Bombay, East Indian, Black—with juice running down your chin and neck, sweet strings getting caught between your teeth.

It’s water so green, so blue, so clear and warm that it pulls you in and cradles you until you realize that the last time you had been so safe, the only other time you could have ever belonged so unequivocally, must have been in your mother’s womb.

Jamaica is bag juice that drips down and stains your shirt with red polka dots.

It’s leaf of life and shame mi darling; it’s peppermint and ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and hibiscus.

Jamaica is trees that look like statues of sages with dreadlocks reaching down to the earth.

Jamaica is contrasts and contradictions.

It’s mountains that range from dark to light green, then blue like the sea at dawn.

Jamaica is Jamrock, di rock; it’s yawd.

Jamaica is children in uniforms walking home from school, the young ones meekly holding the mother’s or grandfather’s hand.

Jamaica is black for its people’s struggles and triumphs, green for the trees and plants of which there seem to be far more than an island so small can contain; it’s gold for the light of the sun that rises and sets so magically that it leaves you breathless each time; gold for the medals brought home by her daughters and sons who are breaking records and raising bars higher than anyone had thought bars could go.

Jamaica is jerk chicken that you buy late at night on the side of the road and eat with hard dough bread and ketchup, right out of the foil in which it’s wrapped.

Jamaica is hands that sow seeds where they’ll bear the sweetest fruits, hands that carry water up steep hills, on roads never meant for leaping and swerving cars, hands that so gracefully hold together this magical world apart from all other worlds.

Jamaica is a Rasta taking a break from an age-long silence to tell you why the Creator sent us the herb and Selassie, while a woman in a church that should long be closed for the night howls a hallelujah that sends shivers from up the hill and ripples down the moonlit sea.

Jamaica is ackee and saltfish, curry goat, coconut rundown, steamed fish with okra and pumpkin, fried dumpling, roasted breadfruit, callaloo, jackfruit, custard apple, boiled bananas, pineapples, guavas, papayas, spice buns, fried plantains, sweet potato pudding, sorrel juice and June plum juice, cocoa tea and coffee tea, fried fish and festival, ripe bananas, rum cake, lobster with melted garlic butter, coco bread and patties, brown stew beef, jerk pork, rice and peas, cock soup, and oxtail.

Jamaica is churches that always mushroom a few steps past shacks on which unsure hands have painted signs that read True Love Bar, or Bar Tropical Bliss.

Jamaica is the Blue Lagoon, Folly Ruins, the Seven-Mile Beach, Morant Bay, Reach Falls, and Accompong Village.

Jamaica is flavors and colors and sounds, those sounds of the sea and songs that share a rhythm like they were made for each other, created with each other in mind.

Jamaica is white sand beaches, lush green mountains, ice-cold springs, gushing waterfalls, busy markets, winding roads, and endless cliffs.

It’s rain that pours from invisible clouds, and a brightness in the sky that gives you reason to believe it’s true what all those songs say about a sun that knows how to smile.

Jamaica is Kojo, Paul Bogle, Nanny of the Maroons, Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Louise Bennett, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Usain Bolt.

Jamaica is curves and skin smooth and soft like the water and air.

Jamaica is children who speak when they are spoken to, and parents who expect their children to carry themselves like the emperors and empresses they are.

Jamaica is a lone boat out at sea in the hours of the morning when there is no one awake but the fisherman.

Jamaica is African, Maroon, Indian, Chinese, Spanish, Patois, English, Christian, Rastafarian, black, brown, and white—out of many, one people.

Jamaica is vans that fly, carrying twelve more people than they should, at least according to the laws of the land and physics.

Jamaica is the scent of pimento and June plum trees, fires burning in the mountains and bushes, the scent of curry, spices, and rum.

Jamaica is one-dollar bags of ganja and tiny nibbles of sweetsop that take you on million-dollar journeys into the deepest parts of yourself.

Jamaica is yea mon, walk good, yes mi general, fi true, jus round di corna, mi nuh kno, one love, respec, mi glad bag bust, mi nyam whole heapa dem sweet bananas, everyting gonna be alright.

There is more, so much more, I could say about Jamaica, but mi pickney dem a wait pon dem madda fi tek dem outta door.

© Maryam Dilakian

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