by Lauren K. Alleyne
You look at the ocean, its fathomless blue, luminous. You look at the brown mountains rising like fresh bread, swollen with some livingness, ready to be bitten into. You are in Serifos, and you are not in Serifos. The blue of this water, its own, but calling from you so many other waters: Maracas, Bosphorous, the Gulf of Persia, all lapping at the shores of your memory. You have so many mountains inside you; they are your bread. Serifos is Serifos, and every island that has come before it. Serifos is Serifos and every wave of blue.
How everything belongs to something else, nothing untainted by memory, or the experience of what has preceded it. How it is impossible to be just one thing in this world of so many entrances, so many openings falling one into the other. A hibiscus blooms at the Benaki in Athens, and another answers at the gates of the house your father was building in Trinidad, in a small village surrounded by cane which is disappearing, eaten by cement and new roads. Even the ruins of the untilled land will soon be gone. Your father no longer lives in that house, where the hibiscus has been replaced first by buttercups, then gingerlilies, now topiary of green flowerless shrubs. But Greece calls it and it answers and is here.
How we wait to be called, suddenly, without warning. What has been calling you here? To what are you the answer? Serifos is answering the call of the disappeared in you. Calling the sugar and the waters of home, calling the longing for a place so simple you might remember who you are, the components of your being— the white house with the flat roof in a village so small you might forget it is where you spent your childhood. You remember yourself mostly as someone who left, who has forgotten the air gritted with the ash of cane fires, the house with no door and a leaking roof, but Serifos asks you to remember. Serifos demands with the dirt road that leads to your blue door, with the palm trees that brood in its heat, in the way you lift your face towards its holy sun. Serifos calls you home.
The women fist and batter dough into circles. The men fan coals into a red mountain of light. A couple shoulders the music between them; whisper the ground with their feet. The trees, too, arch deep toward the dust, unbend into the dark. No one looks for the moon, raising instead glasses golden with wine. The wind enters in all its languages.
The English, noxious and unmusical, clatters in your head. You cannot find the smell of the sea, and nothing is the right shade of blue. The night is full of fireworks, small streaks bursting into wild, showy displays that make you squirm. See how happy everyone is that you’re home? says your lover, soft fingers lacing into yours. You squeeze back, bewildered by this darkness, its strange stars.
You were there. You entered and became a part of it: you lived a whole lifetime in its gut. The mountains and the winds knew your name; the sea blooded your heart with new purpose. You stood atop history in the houses of old gods, awed by the scale and splendor of their ruin. You walked through history as it carried placards and called for justice in the full voice of human ache. You split open with an unbearable love of it. When your life called you back, you returned like one resurrected, wrenched from a pure light into the odd dimness of being. You walked the ordinary paths your days spread before you, slowly reassumed your former shape. Again and again memory reaches for that irrecollectable light— You were there. Remember? You were there.
Lauren K. Alleyne is the author of Difficult Fruit (Peepal Tree Press, 2014) and Honeyfish, (2018 Green Rose Prize, forthcoming 2019). Her fiction, poetry, interviews and non-fiction have been published widely in journals and anthologies including The Atlantic, Ms. Muse, Women’s Studies Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review of Books. Alleyne was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, and is currently Assistant Director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center and an Associate Professor of English at James Madison University.