Colonial Girls School

Jamaica's Olive Senior remembers the ironies of her Caribbean schooldays


Borrowed images
willed our skins pale
muffled our laughter
lowered our voices
let out our hems
dekinked our hair
denied our sex in gym tunics and bloomers
harnessed our voices to madrigals
and genteel airs
yoked our minds to declensions in Latin
and the language of Shakespeare

Told us nothing about ourselves
There was nothing about us at all

How those pale northern eyes and
aristocratic whispers once erased us
how our loudness, our laughter
debased us

There was nothing left of ourselves
Nothing about us at all

Studying: History Ancient and Modern
Kings and Queens of England
Steppes of Russia
Wheatfields of Canada

There was nothing of our landscape there
Nothing about us at all

Marcus Garvey turned twice in his grave.
‘Thirty-eight was a beacon. A flame.
They were talking of desegregation
in Little Rock, Arkansas. Lumumba
and the Congo. To us: mumbo-jumbo.
We had read Vachel Lindsay’s
vision of the jungle

Feeling nothing about ourselves
There was nothing about us at all

Months, years, a childhood memorising
Latin declensions
(For our language
-‘bad talking’ –
detentions)

Finding nothing about us there
Nothing about us at all

So, friend of my childhood years
One day we’ll talk about
How the mirror broke
Who kissed us awake
Who let Anansi from his bag

For isn’t it strange how
northern eyes
in the brighter world before us now

Pale?

From Talking of Trees, published by Calabash, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica (1985)