Friday, November 6, 2015

Poems Published in October 2015: Seeing through my microscope.

Poems Published in October 2015: Seeing through my microscope.

Like Mami Wata in Hiding

You are a volcano.
Scalding words flow.
Your taunts, a barrage
of molten threats
hardening like lava
in memory.

I have become
an island unto myself,
the latest born
of your rancor.

There is already
an archipelago—
trails of your spewing
you lay claim to.
It ashes our sky,
blots the beauty of our moon.

Will the fire in you ever die?
I hear you grumble,
hear your distant rumble.
Who is the new object of
your sulfuric spilling?

I hide like Mami Water*
in the bowels of the sea.

© Althea Romeo-Mark 24.05.15

*Mami Water- water spirits venerated in west, central and southern Africa, and in the African diaspora in the Caribbean and parts of North and South America. They are usually female, but are sometimes male mermaids in West African folklore

Poem published in October, 2015. Kaleidoscope, Writers Abroad. Great Britain. Available at, and

We perceive light as a positive force: dispelling evil, revealing the unexpected, warming and illuminating. It is sunlight and firelight, a kaleidoscope of colours and forms, integral to celebration and mourning, and synonymous with discovery and revelation. 

From one country to the other, it becomes the glow of the Artic summer night, the rainbow-tint of an Irish spring evening, the brilliance of a Mediterranean afternoon.

Kaleidoscope is the fifth anthology published by Writers Abroad. A dazzling collection of fiction and poetry on the theme of light as 2015 is the International year of Light and Light-based Technologies.

New World Bouillon

You need a curious man
called Columbus who carries
a large portion of courage in his bowels.

Add men of similar mind,
men who have nothing to lose.
They are the salt and pepper of adventure.

This is only the beginning
of the melting pot now known
across the Atlantic as the New World.

Add the smell of stories
of roads paved with gold
and battles with blood-thirsty
Caribs, Tainos and Arawaks
that catch the noses of restless
Spaniards, Portuguese and
scions of Vikings, Saxons and Celts,
tired of the tasteless broth of Old World life.

Ravenous for change, they throw themselves
into this stew and, still dissatisfied with the taste,
they add strange ingredients—black slaves,
indentured servants, Chinese and
Indians from the East.

This is not a North American soup,
but a South and Central American boiling pot,
a spicy pot filled with temperament hot as chilies.

It has been simmering for centuries
and is the gourmet dish of the world.

© Althea Romeo-Mark 2014, publishes in The Caribbean Writer, vol.29, 2015

Now Massa Loved Some Hunting.
(Thoughts on visiting a Georgian Plantation)

Visiting a Georgian plantation I am told by the guide that
husbands and wives slept in separate rooms
so husbands, as they made ready to go hunting,
would not have to wake wives at five in the morning.
I am thinking, massa may not be out hunting at all.

The bed is narrow and high.
You needed a ladder to get onto it.
 Massa would have rather sneaked
 into the slaves’ quarters,  dragged a female slave
 to the barn or bush and “ had his way with her.”

That is the story of many of our
great-great grandmothers who
brought colored  babies into the world. 


Caribbean “Bokrahs,” too, said
they were hunting mongoose
or inspecting plantations fences.
There weren’t many trapped vermin to show
and the number of  mulatto babies spiraled.

Bokrahs’ wives knew their husbands weren’t out hunting
and took revenge on the “baby-mamas.”
Slave-women were countless times on potty-duty.
They counted chamber pots in their sleep instead of sheep—
if they slept at all.

Bokrahs loved to hunt and their wives
dared not interfere with their favorite sport.


I am a descendant of hunter and hunted.
There are numerous shades of brown named after us.

We betray each other,
deny our darker brethren their dignity,
define them by menial labor they cannot refuse.

We constrain and imprison them with draconian laws
that give license to hunt in all seasons.


They are strong like mahogany,
and are weaned on the steeling of backbones.

They are stalks that spring back
after bending to breaking point.

They are the seed carriers of marathon runners.
There is no end-line in their long distance sprint.
There are no barriers to their dreams.

© Althea Romeo-Mark, 2014

“Massa” – Master.
“bokrah, bokra—white land owner in the Colonial Caribbean.

Poems published in The Caribbean Writer, Vol 29, 2015

The theme of this volume: ambiguities and contradictions in the Caribbean space. The reader will experience the effects of migration; the contradictions in race, class and gender relations; the ambiguities inherent in nationality constructs; the power of religion; the allure of the supernatural; the many permutations of love and relationships; parenting amid the subtleties of childhood sensibilities and an urgent sense of community—all set in the context of Caribbean diversity.

I write because I have to.

Althea Romeo-Mark

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Revisiting my nests: Installment I, St. Thomas, V. I.

July 29-30th Departure and Arrival

A nest is defined in many ways (1) : a place of rest, retreat, or lodging , (2), home as the country or place where one lives or where one's ancestors lived…(3) and other nests not applied to humans but can be used in an analogy. We compare ourselves to birds that leave their nest, the place where we were born and nurtured and allowed to reluctantly flee the coop.

Revisiting my nests always involves flying long distances.  It is an unpleasant risk I take to reunite with family on other continents or island archipelagos. There is no joy in realizing that I no longer have control of my destiny once I board a plane. I am at the mercy of the Mighty Mysterious Force that must keep its eye on the ball.

I cannot avoid flying by way of England, Holland, France or Frankfurt, and via New York, Georgia or Florida to finally reach my tiny island nests. I forgive, beforehand, any delays that might occur while flying down as it is the journey back that is always most harrowing. 

Nature might throw a tantrum, the machine might have a fit, flight attendants must have their mandatory rest and ideal working environments, and a fanatic, bound on getting to Heaven sooner rather than later, might decide to take passengers along and take the attention of the world hostage.

Then there are the latest technologies installed to assure our safety that generate long lines or require assistance to decipher new, do-it-yourself equipment intended to speed up the herding process.

While waiting in Miami, Florida, where our flight to St. Thomas is delayed because pilots have just flown in from another city, and crews are required to rest, I visit a Cuban restaurant, to set my mood, to transition from Europe to the Caribbean.  

After the meal, I look around at fellow passengers to see if there is anyone I recognize.  It is not until we are boarding that I set my eyes on a former University of the Virgin Islands class mate, Dr. Vincent Cooper.  He is returning home from a writers conference. Another schoolmate from Catholic High School is right behind him. It takes me a while to recognize Justine Moorehead.  I haven't seen him since he left high school, and that is "donkey years ago."

At last, the Cyril King Airport is in view, lights are showing the path on the runway on this late night landing.  I am met by my sister, Arlene, who had arrived the day before, and her son-in-law, Corey. She gives me accommodation for the night at a beach-side hotel not far from the airport.

I wake up the next morning to a heavenly sight.  Outside my window- blue sea lulling calmly towards white sand.  It feels like love at first sight although I have seen sandy beaches and blue see one thousand times. 

How privileged am I. All some people see out their window are heaps of garbage and a world so bleak, they would crawl back into bed if it was a place of comfort.

I feel no sign of jet-lag. The sight itself is reinvigorating and, fueled with the desire to see the land and people in daylight, I am geared up to go.

My sister, Arlene and me.
By 9:00 I am ready to join my sister and family (her daughter Katysha, and her husband, Corey, and their son, Aiden and Elliot) in their early morning ritual.  

We head for the food truck, operated by a woman from Santo Domingo, to get our morning breakfast.  All we want are pates and she offers a variety (beef, salt-fish(codfish), conch, chicken, etc.) and coffee. 

There are other offers on the menu, but pate is all we are interested in. We sit on the benches, (some looking like they might leave splitters in your bottom), provided and enjoy our bit of Caribbean food heaven. Now this is the life.  

My sister, Arlene and her daughter, Katysha.
This is what I like to come back to: family, sand, sea, traditional food, the tropical environment that becomes an idyllic sphere when we live far away from home. In our cases, California and Switzerland.

Zoe with Malaika

Carl and Zoe

My oldest daughter, Malaika, will arrive later in the afternoon and I will join her, her husband, Carl Samples, and daughter, Zoe, at their hotel, but in the meantime, I accompany Arlene and family to the beach that has been calling out to me since I woke up this morning. 

We find a spot, claim it as our own by planting our beach bags on lounging chairs shaded by coconut and sea-side grape trees.  Those of us who need to cover ourselves in sun screen do so before we rush into the cool sea.  This afternoon, spent, with niece and family is precious.  I had not seen them since 2011 when I visited my family in Elk Grove. 

The boys, Aiden and Elliot have really grown.

Elliot, age six

            Arlene, beforehand, had worked out the order of our to-do list during our short stay in St. Thomas. It includes a tour around St. Thomas historical sights, a family reunion luncheon, a boat trip to St. John, and a trip to Coki Point or Magen’s Bay but not to be done necessarily in that order.

Later that afternoon, Corey takes me to the hotel where my daughter, Malaika and family is booked.  It is located on a hill and the view of the island bay is spectacular.  After I am settled, we go down to one of the hotel restaurants to have dinner. The most famous of their restaurants is closed, so we settle for one of the other three. We have a cocktail or two, while we have dinner and  take in the view during the darkening night.

 Friday, July 31st. Family Reunion

Arlene has organized the family lunch at Victor’s Hideout for Friday, July 31st.  Early that morning, Malaika, Carl and I trek downhill, pushing the pram to town in search of Pueblo Supermarket to purchase things for Zoe and breakfast food.  Malaika is surprised it is within walking distance-about ten minutes. We manage to get back on time with our shopping by engaging a local taxi driver. Malaika takes down her number in case we need her services in the future.  

It is soon 12:30 p.m. and Ianthe, the oldest of my siblings, picks us up and drives us to Victor’s Hideout. It is not too far from the airport and would be tricky for someone not familiar with the island to find. It is a restaurant with a great reputation for good local cuisine. Arlene (Center back), On Arlene's right, my daughter, Malaika, Carl, her husband. In front of Carl (right) is Aiden, me (Althea), my brother, Lloyd and his wife, Rehenia. On the left next to Arlene is Ianthe, our older sister, then Katysha,, her son, Elliot and her husband Corey. Lloyd is the second, oldest of my siblings. Arlene is the youngest.

Back row: Malaika, (Carl playing with Zoe in the background) Katysha, Arlene, Althea, Front: Ianthe, Lloyd and his wife Rehenia

Left to right: Katysha (niece, Ianthe (sister), Arlene (sister) and me.

Althea and Lloyd

Aiden, age 12, and Zoe, one year.

We take a lot of photographs while we wait for lunch to arrive. We ask the waiter to take photos of our family as well. Lunch soon arrives. 

Most of us order fish and fungi, a traditional Caribbean meal. There is a lot to talk about. Arlene's family and mine have last visited four to five years ago on the sad occasion of our father’s death. There is non-stop chatter in the company of family and the joy it brings.

After lunch, Ianthe drops us off at Arlene’s hotel where we will spend the rest of the day.  

In her hotel room, we change for the beach where we will remain until the sun sets. In the evening, we enjoy a Caribbean buffet—food for Caribbean gods. The band that was expected to perform cancels, but great company makes up for the disappointment.

In the meantime, a telephone call from Eric, my nephew (Ianthe’s son), confirms our plans for Saturday. 

Arlene, Eric (nephew) and Katysha (my neice)
 We will take a boat from Red Hook to St. John at 11:00 a.m. Eric has already arranged transportation.

Saturday, August, 1st. Boat Ride to St. John

Malaika arranges with our female taxi driver to take us to Red Hook where boats depart for St. John. We are first to arrive. There are no lines when we purchase our tickets. The boat departs at 11:00 and we have time to look around the shops. There are pubs and bars and shops for those who wish to fish and those who want only beach wear, drinks and snacks.

I look around for sandals and find a pair that can also be worn in the water.  I buy a huge beach bag. All I need now is a huge beach towel, but they are either too expensive or none appeals to me. Malaika and Carl buy straw hats.

By the time we get back to the dock, Eric and his wife, Arlene, Katysha, Corey and boys are waiting on a very long line to buy tickets. We are happy that we arrived early.


Katysha and Aiden in the back.

 The boat ride is a rough in some parts, but we are surrounded by blue sea, blue sky and sunshine. The ride is shorter than we expected. 

The boat docks and as we make our way to connect with our transport we pass by locals having a food sale.  We stop to buy Johnny cakes,  sugar-cakes, water and cold coffee drinks.

            We reach the parking area where four-wheel-drive vehicles await us. It is not long before we are on our way. Eric takes the lead surmounting the steep hills, Corey follows. We admire how well Corey has conquered driving on the left. He is a natural. 

Beach on St.John, Virgin Islands

After much climbing, we soon reach our destination which could have been a pirate’s hideout two hundred years ago. Everyone changes into their swimsuits despite no changing facilities, except me. 
Eric and Elliot


I relax on the beach, watch over my granddaughter , Zoe and our belongings, watch family frolic in the sea, listen to their laughter. Aiden has forgotten his dislike of salt water and spends most of the afternoon in it.

Island iguana

Later, Aiden is fascinated by an iguana which is perplexed by tourists who have taken over his habitat, the way European conquered America, and Australia.  The poor native is shoosed away, is an annoyance to tourist who do not appreciate its company.  The big iguana is joined by a younger one.  There is a staring contest.

By 4:00 p.m. everyone is nicely toasted by the sun. It is time to pack up and leave. On our way back to the dock, we stop at a restaurant to have lunch and cocktails and look around at souvenirs on offer.

Back on the boat,  some of us decide to sit in the air-conditioned quarters. We have had enough of the heat. The air-condition feels heaven-sent.

Back on St. Thomas,  Eric drops Malaika, Carl, Zoe and me at our hotel. 

Fort Christian

Malaika begins to organize an island tour for early Sunday afternoon.
Katysha, Corey and Elliot remain behind, but the rest of us head off to hear and see island history once again.  

New comers to St. Thomas, Carl, Aiden,  will learned some island history for the first time. Malaika, who has learned some island history from family,  will find out more.

The tour begins down town where the streets are deserted because it is Sunday and there are no tourist ships at the West Indian Dock or in the bay.

Journey Back in History
(St. Thomas, Virgin Islands/ De dansk-vestindiske øer))

Our family has gathered after years away from The Rock
and we have been playing tourist since we have arrived.
Today we are journeying back through island history.

Our guide is well-informed and tests us to see
if we are pretenders—tourists shamelessly claiming roots,
professing to be what we are not.

Fort Christian, Emancipation Gardens,
the Market Square, Blackbeard Castle and
Drake’s Seat pop up in our quiz.

How well do we know the Danes
who claimed St. Thomas in the 16th   Century
and built a fort in 1671 in honor
 of their King, Christian the Fifth,
and painted it red as though warning those
 who challenged his authority?

Skytsborg Tower put up years later to spy on approaching enemies—
temporary infiltrators who had dared to raise their flag—
the British, Spanish, French, Dutch and Knights of Malta,
who had stalked the islands and were fought off and defeated.
And now the irony—Skytsborg Tower bears today
the name of the notorious British pirate, Blackbeard.

Market Square still stands.  We cannot forget the horror
of those times when slaves in transit from Africa
were sold there as commodities. Their emancipation announced
one century later with a loud  blow of a conch shell by a soldier.

Why ninety-nine steps and not a hundred?
Many dozens of steps built to make the climb of craggy hills
less burdensome and reaching the hilltop gives
a splendid vista of the blue Atlantic.

We sit on a seat named after Sir Francis Drake,
live the lore of him spying on enemy ships
and plotting his plunder from this vantage point.

How rich this is. An island filled with the history
of treachery and intrigue like others named
by Christopher Columbus,  caught in the colonial net
of adventure and enslavement,  still unbroken
and entangled in cultural and political division.

© 24.08.15 Althea Romeo-Mark

Emancipation Garden
Blackbeard's Castle
99 Steps

Market Square, former slave market 

As we tour, our guide stops at the famous 99 Steps. He drops off my grandnephew, Aiden, tells him to count the steps.  If he gets them right, he will win a prize-a virgin punch.  Aiden, twelve years old and eager, takes off up the steps counting. He has already heard how the gigantic Bluebeard’s lit fire-crackers, tied to his beard, to scare off his enemies.
We are driven to the top of the steps where we wait for Aiden.  He finally arrives, huffing and puffing and says there are 84, and loses his prize. But there is a bonus for all of us.  We learn there are only 99 steps because the stonemason/s were drunk while doing the construction and miscounted.

We pass by Drake's Seat where we take another group photo, and snaps of a beautiful flamboyant tree.

Carl and Zoe

Flamboyant tree

We could not help but notice how the Caribbean wide drought had affected the island, the town drier than the hillsides that attracts more rain. On island, that has had to import water when drought hits, this is a rather expensive prospect that nobody looks forward to. Memories of water trucks laboring uphill during times like these poke at me. And when there isn't enough, we turn to desalinated water to save us. Not drinkable, it  is good enough for washings dishes, clothes, and taking baths. I imagine that at times like these  there is a staggering increase in sales of body lotion.
At Mountain Top, which gives view of several islands, Arlene, Aiden’s his grandmother, compensates his failing his 99 steps test with a virgin punch and he is quite contented. The tour ends here where we, too, sit down, relax, enjoy the view and drink rum punches. 

Drinks are followed by a quick look around at souvenirs. We feel we will get better bargains at Vendor’s Plaza and decide to wait. 
Our tour guide warns us that our time is up and he is ready to drop us off at our hotel.

Elaine Warren Jacobs and Althea


Back at the hotel, we have a light dinner before Arlene and I are picked up by our university friend and fellow Antiguan, Elaine Warren Jacobs. Her car, unfortunately, is not large enough to accommodate six people. Malaika, Carl and Zoe remain behind.

At Elaine’s home, on one of the island’s mountaintops, we chat, drink bush tea, eat dumb bread and other local snacks. Elaine is a strong believer in the old traditions and has a passion for preserving them before they disappear from memory. In addition to sharing the oral tradition, she believes in utilizing herbs and bushes once used by our forefathers. Her mother, for her, was a great inspiration in her writing and the keeping of traditions. Elaine gives me a book in memory of her mother.

One of my favorites bush teas learned from father was made with lemon/fever grass, and mint leaves. Another was made with fresh grated ginger for indigestion or sour-sap leaves for cooling and sleeping. 
Of course, there are also others like hibiscus leaves  used to stave off colds and guava leaves to cure diarrhea.

Monday, July 3rd.

     And then it is Monday, July 3rd. The end of the spectacular time with family stares me in the face.  My daughter, Malaika, husband, Carl, and baby Zoe in pram, walk down to the city, past the spectacular red fort built, by the Danes, to Vendors Plaza and shops on main street (Dronnigens Gade ) to do souvenir shopping.

We search our famous brick-laid buildings and alleys for suitable presents, and while searching bump into my sister, Arlene, her daughter, Katysha, husband and children who also are souvenir shopping, too. 

Main Street (Dronnigens Gade), St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

Malaika Mark (daughter), Katysha Meeks (niece)

We take some photos and hurry along paying quick visits to shop in various alleys.  We are to gather later in the afternoon at Tutu Mall where we will meet up with our older sister, Ianthe.

Katyha has captured numerous colorful doors, the entrance to buildings built with bricks imported from Flensburg, in the northern tip of Germany. Flensburg. which borders Denmark, was part of Denmark in the 1700s.

I can't resist this sign that I passed while trudging through one of our many beautiful alleys.  Of course St. Thomas prospered from its rum distilleries which are no longer in use.

We decide to take a dollar bus to Tutu Mall from Vendor’s Plaza.  Going up the hill nearby K-Mart and the hospital, the bus breaks down, but it is only a five minutes wait before another arrives, and our journey to Tutu Mall continues.


After shopping and buying food at Tutu Mall we drive to Ianthe’s house which reminds me of houses in Greece. It is situated on a low hill in the Tutu area and has a panoramic view of  its surroundings. From there we spot what looks like brand new condos and are told that they are housing projects.  More family photos are taken. They include my nephew Lee (Foster) Baynes, and his look-a-like son, Ricky. 

We also use this time to flip through photo albums and scrutinize old pictures of ourselves sporting seventies and eighties fashions.  They are shared with Carl and Corey who are seeing them for the first time.  There is no embarrassment.  These moments only bring us closer. I-phones and Androids are flashing as these photos, too, become precious souvenirs.

            This is my last day with everyone as I fly to Antigua and Barbuda the following day, Tuesday, August 4th, for the Ten Anniversary Conference of the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books in which I will be taking part.

I leave one nest for the other and will miss a beautiful photo of the family gathered at the beach on Tuesday afternoon. I accept that I cannot be in two places as once.  I am only human and I cannot have everything.

My granddaughter, Zoe and grandnephews Aiden and Elliot in the background.

  1. “the rock”-local name for St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
  2. Fort Christian is a Danish-built fort in Charlotte AmalieSaint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Governor Jørgen Iversen Dyppel led the second expeditionary force from Denmark to St. Thomas, where he arrived on 25 May 1672; there, he initiated construction of Fort Christian, named after King Christian V.[3] In the 18th century, the fort was expanded and in 1874 a new entrance with a Victorian Clock tower was added.[4] As the oldest standing structure in the U.S. Virgin Islands, this fort has served as a town center, a government building, and a jail. It currently holds the St. Thomas Museum. This museum holds artifacts and art of the Danish period. Date over the main gate is 1671.

  1. Blackbeard's Castle is one of five National Historic Landmarks in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is located in the city of Charlotte Amalie, on the island of St. Thomas. Built in 1679 by the Danes as a watchtower to protect the harbor as well as Fort Christian. Blackbeard's Castle was originally called Skytsborg Tower (meaning sky tower). It is located at the highest point on Government Hill. Skytsborg Tower served as a very effective vantage point for Danish soldiers to spot enemy ships. .. It is not known what year Skytsborg Tower took on the name of Blackbeard's Castle, but the infamous Edward Teach, commonly known as Blackbeard, did sail the Caribbean waters in the early 18th century. It has become part of the lore of the island that he used the tower as a lookout for his own purposes of piracy.
  2. Emancipation Park & the Grand Galleria-Emancipation Park was named in commemoration of the July 3rd, 1848 emancipation of slaves in the Danish West Indies

  1. The 99 Steps-Charlotte Amalie is unique for step streets, or” frigangs” as the Danes called them. These steps were built in the mid1700s. Dozens of step streets cut through nearly all the hills rising from the Charlotte Amalie harbor area; the 99 steps are the most popular.

  1. Drake’s Seat. The bench is named after the British privateer Sir Francis Drake, who is said to have used the bay as an anchorage point for his ships and may have climbed to this vantage point as a way to identify ships to later plunder.