The father is long gone to the other sidebut the raspy edge of his laughing echoes through the tunnels of her brain. She is the daughter who can't sleep without dreaming him knocking at the door of her quiet with the story he told. He told it again and again laughing as he told it. She remembers the child she was sitting at the grandma's kitchen table grown-ups all around- the aunts and uncles, seven of them, the youngest boy gone from sick doctor couldn't say what but everybody knew he played too much woman put something in he food.

They recall this lost one laughing and talking about home- not this America but back on the island. Then, because the big house in the Bronx is old and creaking her father tells the story again- when he was a boy taking the short cut at night crossing the cemetary behind the church with only the moonlight and whispers of ghosts carried on tradewinds. There was a veve at the crossroads and shadows raising question: Which way to go? Everybody knows duppies can't hurt you unless they're alive with your fear. Her father always said: Without learning to swim there's no leaving the island.

At the grandma's table there is always fish and rice and peas and okra and heavy bread- bitter mauby or spicey ginger beer comes ladled from a big ceramic crock. Her small voice says: I swallowed a bone. The point of it is lodged in her throat but before there is choking and blood Aunt Lorna wisks her off to the bathroom forcing fingers in the girl's mouth making her gag and throw up- the bone of a dead fish swirling down the toilet whirlpool- the ghosts in the shadows had followed the father and the aunts and uncles- followed them from the island to this new land- ghosts hovering near the water tank above the toilet- ghosts waiting to return her soul to the island- tgis girl who had not yet learned to swim.



--Anna Altman




published in the P.S.1 Newspaper, Fall 2008 edition, in conjunction with the P.S.1 exhibition NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith organized by P.S.1 Curatorial Advisor Franklin Sirmans.