Poems by Jacqueline Bishop

26 Federal Plaza

Like I come to know the place like the back of my hands.
Like I come to know the names of the immigration officers.
Like I come to know the ones to avoid that always asking
too many questions and looking for trouble.
Like I made friends in that line long like forever;
people from Kenya, Honduras, China.
Like I come to know the forms I should walk-with and have
an extra copy. Like I come to know; like I come to always know:
that big rectangle-like building in the middle of downtown Manhattan.



gerund or present participle: parsing
1. analyze (a sentence) into its parts
(a string or text) into logical components;
typically, in order to test conformability to a logical grammar.
examine or analyze minutely.
“He has always been quick to parse his own problems in public.”

Parsing is so close to passing —

Passing (racial identity)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

occurs when a person classified as a member of one racial group
is also accepted as a member of a different racial group.

Which is another way of saying someone or something is a changeling.
One thing looking like another.
One thing standing in place of another.

Am I passing or parsing in a place like New Orleans,
where everything feels so familiar
to my home i/land of Jamaica?

These hot muggy days when the heat
makes the tawdry businesses along Bourbon Street
shine and shimmer. I think I can look through layers of this City

To see Xaymaca rising like a phantasm before me.
I stop to catch my breath at the magnanimity of it all,
my breathing raspy, asthmatic, and wonder:

Is my friend, the scholar, correct Mr. Audubon,
when she says, it is the only way to explain all the silences,
confusions, and all your obfuscations?

That you too must have stood at the same places where I am now standing,
Frenchman’s Market and Congo Square,
And you too must have seen for yourself, seen so much of yourself,
in this hot and tropical dreamscape,
these bruising days of summer —

That familiar heat and humidity?

It is in New Orleans, and later, in other places in Louisiana,
that you, Mr. Audubon, would find your voice, find your vision.
Such elegant lines and those raging Caribbean colors!
It is here in New Orleans where you painted a full third, 167 birds,
of the celebrated Birds of America.

It all must have reminded you, these small colorful creole cottages,
these verandahs with their heavy black balustrades,
the ever-present ferns,
the lemon and banana trees,
the bright red hibiscus flowers,
It all must have reminded of your first love —
the place that set it all in motion.

You wrote about it once, no more, your shadowy beginnings
on a plantation, now descended into myth and legend,
on the island of Saint Domingue.
The fiery-colored parrots asking for more bread and more water.

That childhood, that island, and its many unanswered,
and now, perhaps, unanswerable questions.
With one story after another, you sought to whitewash,
to camouflage, a dark and dangerous tarnish:
Your father a ship’s captain and naval officer;
your mother, his chambermaid mistress —
illegitimacy comes in so many forms and has so many colors.

Parsing, it is so close to passing —

And what a rass, and what a rass indeed,
for us to stop and consider, for us to stop and wonder,
what it would all mean, if the father of American
ornithology was really, and all along, a black man,
or, worse still, as he would put it, a yellow man,
cross-breed, citron, mélange, métissage,
from that shithole country we today call Haiti?

The Gymnast & Other Positions is Jacqueline Bishop’s most recent book and was awarded the 2016 OCM Bocas Award in Non-Fiction. She is also the author of the novel, The River’s Song; and two collections of poems, Fauna and Snapshots from Istanbul. Her non-fiction books are My Mother Who Is Me: Life Stories from Jamaican Women in New York and Writers Who Paint/Painters Who Write: Three Jamaican Artists. For several years she wrote a monthly column on the visual arts for the Huffington Post. An accomplished visual artist with exhibitions in Belgium, Morocco, Italy, Cape Verde, Niger, USA and Jamaica, Ms. Bishop was a 2008-2009 Fulbright Fellow to Morocco; the 2009-2010 UNESCO/Fulbright Fellow; and is an Associate Professor at New York University. In addition to the OCM Bocas Award, Bishop has received several additional awards, including: The Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for short story writing, The Arthur Schomburg Award for Excellence in the Humanities from New York University, A James Michener Creative Writing Fellowship, as well as several awards from the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission.