Books by Tiphanie Yanique
Land of Love and Drowning
2014, Riverhead Books.
How to Escape from a Leper Colony
2010, Graywolf Press.
I Am the Virgin Islands
2012, Little Bell Caribbean.
Last Yanique Nation
The pit in my womb where the doctor lover
says is my self, is not a nation
My soul is called Che, as in Guevara,
but my body has not died for the nation
I told my enemy I loved her, as
I love my nation Guevara,
was no coward which means he tended towards
fool I want to be a fool in love and thus
a fool for this nation My soul doesn’t
care about nations My soul makes its country
in the backyard or bedroom of wherever
I carry it. My islands do not make
a nation. Yet my soul guards
their bodies, their waters. That then
is the nation. Yes, the pink pit
does bear the possibility of nations.
Che rests its teeth into my belly. I feel
the love and remember Guevera,
the man, had no nation but nations
He died for the end of our nations
I speak my soul’s only language, dear
doctor revolutionary, in the name
of no nation Despite the proxy
of vows I am both body and nation.
This is the island.
It is small and vulnerable,
it is a woman, calling. You love her
until you are a part of her
and then, just like that
you make her less than she was
that you take up is a space where she cannot exist
something in her history
that does this
her name The island
is a woman Therefore,
dangerous things live below
Beautiful things, also—which can be the most dangerous.
True, we will never be
beyond our histories.
And so I am the island.
And so this is a warning.
Traditional Virgin Islands Wedding Verse
When you are born
you are passed to your father’s arms
or your mother’s chest.
Your parents claim you. You belong
to them. Before you even know
you are your own,
you know that you are
someone else’s. You are
bonded. You need to belong.
Then you belong
to the land, the town
in which you are raised. You belong
to the city you choose.
These places have a hold
on you. They claim you.
I am from, you say.
I am of.
Perhaps you belong
to the school. To the church.
You say I am, and name
what you do for sustenance.
These things own you and
you own them.
You are part of a tribe.
It is not a shackle. It is the true story
It is what makes you.
You come to belong to yourself.
You say I am
and call your own name.
to each other.
You are of the same tribe.
I am his wife,
you will say; and
I am her husband.
You are future ancestors of
the same village.
And you have made this so
by your own choice.
You will weld yourself
with regard to each other
and because of each other.
You will weave your own self
to the other. You are now native
to each other. You say
I claim you.
from Land of Love and Drowning:
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Owen Arthur Bradshaw watched as the little girl was tied up with lace andsilk. He jostled the warm rum in his glass and listened to the wind.
The storm outside wasn’t a hurricane. Just a tropical gale. It was the season for storms. Lightning slated through the heavy wooden shutters that were closed but unfastened. The thunder was coming through the walls built with blue bitch stone. There was no one outside walking in the rain. That sort of thing was avoided.
A scientist visiting from America had brought the lace and the silk. They were all at the house of Mr. Lovernkrandt, an eminent Danish businessman. Denmark was giving up on the West Indies and America was buying in, but Mr. Lovernkrandt was not leaving. The scientist was tying the girl up. He was demonstrating an experiment that had become stale on the Continent, an experiment of electricity. The little girl was very beautiful. And she was very little. And she was very afraid. She was also very brave.
Captain Bradshaw thought on his daughter, Eeona, who was not unlike this American girl. Only Eeona was more beautiful and at least as brave.
The people who had come together to make Captain Owen Arthur Bradshaw could be traced back to West Africans forced to the islands as slaves and West Africans who came over free to offer their services as goldsmiths. Back to European men who were kicked out of Europe as criminals and to European women of aristocratic blood who sailed to the islands for adventure. Back to Asians who came as servants and planned to return to their Indies, and to Asians who only wanted to see if there was indeed a western side of the Indies. And to Caribs who sat quietly making baskets in the countryside, plotting ways to kill all the rest and take back the land their God had granted them for a millennium.
Owen Arthur had been raised from a poor upbringing to a place of importance and ownership. He was the captain and owner of a cargo ship. And now he was among the important men who sat in this living room and watched through the haze of the oil lamps as a girl was hoisted off the ground via lace and silk and a hook in the ceiling. The little girl’s body jerked as the American scientist tugged. Her body jerked until she was a few feet off the ground, but she did not cry out. Owen Arthur Bradshaw was not sure how much longer he could bear to watch. But it was essential for him to be at this gathering. The host, Mr. Lovernkrandt, was a rum maker and Owen Arthur had always shipped rum. But with Americanness would come Prohibition, and Owen Arthur needed to ensure he was included in any of Lovernkrandt’s nonliquor endeavors.
He pressed his own earlobe between his thumb and forefinger. Success and solvency should have been on his mind, but Owen Arthur could not help but watch the American girl with a father’s tenderness. This little girl was pale-faced and blond, and Owen’s little girl, Eeona, was honey-skinned and ocean-haired.
But still he looked at this strange little girl as though looking on his own child. The first half of him desired that he had created this little girl. She was a pretty yellow thing. The lower half of him desired the girl. How young could she be?
He put his mouth to his glass and tilted it until the warm sweetness met his lips. She will outlive me, he thought to himself. And who was the “she” he was referring to? Perhaps his wife, who was just then sitting at home doing the sewing that it seemed God had created her to do. Or perhaps he was speaking of his mistress, who was at that moment sitting in her home playing the piano he had bought her, making a music that only God or the Devil could bless. Or perhaps he was actually speaking of his daughter, whom he loved like he loved his own skin. Perhaps he was speaking of the little girl to whom the scientist was now attaching cords of metal. Perhaps the little girl was, in a way, all women to him, as all women might be to a certain kind of man.
Owen Arthur is right. All these shes will outlive him, though he cannot bear the thought of his women going on. He knows his daughter will live forever, in the way all parents do, simply because parents generally die first. But Owen will not die of old age. Owen will die of love. The Danish West Indies will become the United States Virgin Islands and then this patriarch will die. And perhaps these things are the same thing.
from How to Escape from a Leper Colony:
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Babalao Chuck said that when they found the gun it was still in the volunteer’s pulsing hands. The child was covered in his mother’s blood and body. Her red sari redder. The volunteers at the leper colonies were young Trinidadian doctors and British journalists and criminals trading time in jail for time among lepers, and sometimes young people who carried tiny Bibles in their pockets. No one ever told me which kind killed Lazaro’s mother. The volunteer was asked to leave and that was to be the end of it.
What evil thing Lazaro will do later we will forgive him for without remorse, because we know his past and because we know he is one of us. For a leper, many things are impossible, and many other things are easily done. Babalao Chuck said he could fl y to the other side of the island and peek at the nuns bathing. And when a man with no hands claims that he can fl y, you listen. He would return and tell us about the steam in the nuns’ showers. About how they had soap that lathered. How they had shampoo that smelled like flowers.