Woman in Dub

“I’m gonna put on an iron shirt and chase the devil out of earth.”
            — Lee “Scratch” Perry and Max Romeo

Side A.

The devil I see is the one I saw and nail out of fears   out of cycles of wound   dread calcifying into prophecy    I put on an iron shirt to face it chase it but the cop still piss drunk with power I put on an iron shirt but the men on the street surveil the nipple   been hounding my punani since             before I spilled my first blood   what a menace of a body   I hurl blame to the husk   is the devil real or is it of my fantastical making  the answer is not the matter   the fact of paranoia be the true violence   warfare: the very presence of the question        I want to peer inward   to take a good look at the soundsystem     my heartbeat echoing out of my folkloric thirst   my desperate belief in other realities   a B-side where I’m abolished from emotional labor aka black woman’s burden  free to surrender to my own madness  to sink down into the dub of it   stripped of my first voice   reverbing outside the pain of a body—

Side B.

            stripped of my first voice    


                                               down in the dub            cop hounds my blood    

into paranoia           a black reality            


                                                                      cycles spilled    


                 power husked   
                                                                                         emotional woman I   I

I iron                            real street               folkloric and mad  
                                                                                       tr tr trrrruuuueeee  


take a good look at the devil

                                                     peer into the dread   

men surrender to wound: drunk        calcified                                          but I   

                                                          chasing echoes       


 nailed to system                                            free in sound


                                        I       a fact      


                                                             answer of my own making


*To read this poem in its intended format, please view from a desktop. 


We ask about our people and they tell us the plight of boats
yachts smashed in the marina, ferries crashed into harbors
masts snapped, propellers bent, vessels drowned in coves.

They broadcast reports of water rising in hotel rooms
sand slipping into sheets where our cousins could never sleep  
salt stains as testimony, spit-prints of the hurricane’s wrath.

Bodies are piling up in the morgues and instead
an elegy of boats
an inventory of industry, countdown
to when paradise can begin again.

So it seems when we’re no longer property
we become less than property
a nail sick with rust, jangling in high winds.

This would be a different story were it not
for ex(ile), whose sting swells when banished
in one’s own yard, barred
from the fruits of your mother’s land.

Inside ex(ile): tempests and fault lines
are developers’ wet dreams.
A mainland will sink its territory in debt
starve its subjects in the wake of storms
clearing ground for palaces on the shore.

Inside ex(ile): the body is only
as good as its technology
how it buckles in a field.

Inside ex(ile) is the ile
pushed across the Atlantic through Oya’s lips.
Place or shelter, sacred home.

We ask about our people and fill the silence with prayer
utterances rerouting to our climate’s first spirits:
Guabancex blowing furious winds, Huraca’n spiraling at the center.
Guatauba drenched in thunder and lightning.
Coatrisque of the deadly floods.

Spare our kin, we plead. Save your wrath for the profiteers.
Cast them from our archipelago, our ile ife of the seas
until home is a place we never have to leave.

Related Poems

Invisible Woman, Dancing

All Hallows Eve, Sweet Briar College, 2003

I came as a ghost to the party,
no costume required, I only had to wear
the brilliant skin, the ruinous eyes,
the body poised in transit, unwriting
the myth of sex. I came as a ghost
to the party, though we pretended
not to notice a palpable hovering
in the interstices of conversations,
a presence so insubstantial
eyes passed through it, hands
reached through air, bodies jostled
on the dance floor and never felt a thing.

Still, some there were haunted,
drawn away from the company,
its clenched knots of desperate clever banter,
to contemplate the thinnest air
as if, despite themselves,
they heard and heeded a ghostly tongue;
their bodies swayed in answer.
Staring into that void they glimpsed themselves,
turned back, shuddering, to the masquerade.

I came as a ghost to the party
against my better judgment
at the persistent, earnest
urging of my friends, as if
a ghost had friends when they hoist

the flag of whiteness and huddle there
under purity and privilege, surrender—fatal—
the furious, frailer, darker parts
of themselves. Recently they had rallied
to kiss the ass of a black man who had accomplished
admirable things—though most there had not read
them or only read a story,
as pleasantly exotic and sweetly soothing
as those wonderful spirituals
about wading in the water and summertime.
So extravagant was their ardor
that I, a member of his tribe,
could not get near him or have one word.
Still, I know he saw me, sitting there, tense, alone,
before his lecture, unmoored and vanishing
in the cocktail Hell before his dinner—
did not only see, but recognized a kindred ache.
The first and second and third rule of thumb,
the commentator said, is do not scare
the white people. And so we stand apart,
raise no specters of over-educated house
niggers breeding insurrections, mustering
ghost armies of strangers, lepers, freaks,
the wretched of the earth, furious,
innumerable and not afraid to die.

I came as a ghost to the party.
you didn’t wear a costume, someone said.
I came as an activist, I replied,
modeling my black ACLU t-shirt,
Lady Liberty emblazoned down my front,
at my back, a litany of rights.

I might have said the costume’s in the eye.
You will weave for me a shroud
and I will walk among you like a ghost,
mask of the red death, memento mori.

Blind with pride and rage
(I will ask no one for help), I quit the place,
leave the lake behind, the band’s god-awful
din, the strafing voices—the rent
in the world’s fabric miraculously healed
by my going. The dark deserted road
is unfamiliar, its grade, its curves,
the woods casting shadows from either side,
but any path is right that leads away.
I lose my way, keep going, going,
deeper into the maze, finally turn back.
Returned, the band’s on break;
They’ve put a mix tape in.
I dance like one possessed, furious grace.
When strangers, not of this place,
say a quick goodnight, I run after,
take me with you, I say.

A solid hand upon my solid knee, warm hands
returning the pressure of my warm hand—
two women rescue me, deliver me—
ghost in the machine
once more human girl—home
with promises of brunch and company
they will or will not keep.
No matter. I lock the door
and slide the chain, rest back against

the frame, breathing relief.
May they all die horribly in a boathouse fire.
The malediction takes me by surprise.
I say it once again with clear intent:
May they all die horribly in a boathouse fire.
These words be kerosene, dry wood, locked doors, a match.

st. croix mornings

the beach at sunrise

raises its skirts

like a drunken pigeon


i raise my eyes awake

behind armored gates

somewhere deep in frederiksted

inside dark rooms

that shroud my skin

in the colors

of an evening gone bad


bluest black

rinsed indigo

uncensored red


dark nameless woman

washed ashore

skin seared

like an eclipse

out of season


warm water

nips under my


seeps into my skin


and the ocean whispers


stay close

stay close


i strut red feathers like a pagan god

open my house boldly

invite sun and waves to crush my wings

rape this serenity


bluest black

rinsed indigo

uncensored red


i surrender

to the messages in the sky

on the waves



i eat my own blood

reach quietly inside the water

gather all of me

alongside myself


and the ocean whispers


stay close

stay close


an earlier version

of sunrise

teases the curtains

teases the whiteness of sheets

that gather around my ankles

that remind my feet to breathe


an earlier version

of sunrise

sits cross-legged

holds thunder

captive under skirts


that deny

full moons

that deny

seasons  of fire

thy deny

births and names 


st croix mornings

gaze back at me

through the eyes

of my daughter

remind me

of other madnesses

other unnamed seeds


the madness of the sky

the madness of a woman

who refuses to


stay close

stay close

Roof Nightclub

First, above all, I live forever. And
thereafter redecorate paradise
in the majesty of the Roof Nightclub,
DJ Lucifer, at predawn hours
terrifies the floorboards to give way to
Apollyon’s abyss, reflecting scarred light
on the wall. The mirror alive with tremors.

Herons bring news of consolation.
I rebuke them for my brilliance
and enrich uranium in my cove
across Navy Island. The hospital
vanishes in the fog, so I arrange rain
to restore magenta ginger lilies
where my mother walked to born me.
Malignant fireflies at Christmas;
sorrel then sorrow, such is Kingston, there
funky carols seethe asphalt with famine.

Forever ends. Never a moment holds
‘still-here,’ when sand murmurs through my fingers.
I number and chant down stars, ellipsoidal
as fire ants with, “I think I will be
killed once I die!” and again return
the Super Ape, to conquer the Roof Club,
rip off Apollyon’s hell fence; skin him; dance
thundering subatomic dub music,
until my rage yields settled coral.
A million embers of eyes split from coals
to see me loom out the shadows’ sunray
by the turntable wearing a splash crown.