December 4, 2010

Lynne Thompson

ANTILLES. LESSER.

When you’re a girl and your pop-pop tells you
he was born in the lesser Antilles, you don’t ask
questions. Truth is, you don’t really know what

Antilles are; barely know lesser although you do
know about comparisons. You have book smarts:
have read the oeuvre of Dumas pére & Dumas fils;

read about Alexander the Great (which suggests
there must have been an Alexander the Less but
you’ve never read anything about him and can

imagine how embarrassed his kinfolk must be).
Anyway, when pop-pop tells you about these lesser
Antilles, these small islands, you worry they’re just

magic dust & sure enough because when you look
on a map, circa 1957, those islands aren’t even there
which is humiliating because when you go to school

where some little white girls are boasting of County
Cork or about a seder their forefathers prepared in
what’s now called Prague—easy to find on McNally’s—

all you can say is: my people were born in the West
Indies, Antilles (trying much too hard to sound exotic)
but Mrs. Lordamore’s exacting, wants to know where

in the Antilles while she goes on to tell the class how
Cristóbal Colon (aka Columbus) landed there when he
was looking for America; specifically, that he landed

in the Bahamas and then she turns to you, asks are you
saying your people come from the Bahamas?
and you
pucker your forehead the way you do when you want

others to think you need time to remember but you’re
already remembering your pop-pop looking glassy-eyed
when he sermonized about the Antilles; about plantain

and rum. But just now, Mrs. Lordamore’s still waiting;
saying show us, show us on the map and now you can
barely stand up and when you do, you walk very slowly

to the map, point to the place you already know isn’t there
and you pray and glory hallelujah!—prayers get answered!—
the school bell rings and it’s the last day before Christmas

vacation and you’re sure everyone, even Mrs. Lordamore,
will forget the question by the time you all return, January
next. And all of them do. But you don’t forget although

it’s years before you see pop-pop’s St. Vincent (his lesser
island) on a map. But by then, pop-pop doesn’t talk about
sweet fruit anymore. It’s left to you to find anyone to tell.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010