A West Indian washer woman washing clothes at a stream about 1909.
In Homage to West Indian Poetry on World Poetry Day
My Mamí was talking to me
What’s more, I think she was praying.
“Look you shirt! Bran’d new shirt,
an you keep it like this!
What happen this time?
No, don’t tell me, I know,
some Paña boy call you Chombo!”
The look she had on her face
made me answer:
“Well, that’s what allway happen,
I go to school with them an’…”
She did not make me finish
as she started the same old talk I call her prayer:
“Oh yes, you an you alone
goin’ fight the whole world ova’ a name?
An you such a smart boy!”
“Look, if I said it once
I say it a million times,
I don’t want you fighting,
fighting in the streets!
No, no not you!
You have to listen to me!”
“How it is that you goin live
long enough to become president of Panama?
You answer me that!”
“Look, son, them bad blows
will tell on you laita’, man.
If I was a smart boy like I know you are,
I will listen to my Mamí
instead of listening to some boy
calling you Chombo or anything else.”
“You keep your mind on this,
say it ova an ova,
‘I will become the first
Westindian president of Panama.’
You a Paña boy!
An the Lord has to work
in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”
“I ask you now,
wha you think they call that president,
wha his name?”
“Arnulfo Arias!” I piped up an said.
“Yes, that one ‘Nulfo!’
Yes, what they call him
when they want to talk to him?”
“Mr. Presidente, I suppose?” I said
as I found myself still standing near her
as she gave me a lecture prayer I’d remember all my life.
“Well, yes! That is what
everybody has to call him.
That is what you is goin to be called,
Not Mr. Chombo President!
So, there you have it, then.
All those ladies you meet at Ancon Laundry
Will say to me “Mrs. Reid,
We hear your boy is president.”
I will be proud to have the Lord
take me home
as angels sing, “It is well,
It is well with my soul.”
“See, son, what I mean for you?
That would make me very happy.
Now you go inside an change
then look in my purse an take money enough
to go to Big Market fo’ me,
like a good boy.”