Special Issue:
Women & Voodoo
August '08


Original Poetry

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Althea Romeo-Mark

August 2008

Waking The Obeah Within Us: Five Poems


His hair, woolly, short and soft
is dark-brown and
blazes red when he sits
in the gaze of the sun.

The wise ones taught him
the sacredness of trimmed hair.
It was kept in fist-sized balls
in plastic bags, not for nostalgia's sake
nor for souvenirs of childhood.

Hair is hidden, stashed away in
far corners of drawers, and
in tattered suitcases
gathering dusts under beds.

It lay among the keepsakes
of grandparent's tarnished silver,
ancient eye glasses and photos
of black sheep so faded,
no one recognizes faces.

You do not wish your enemy
to get hold of it. With hair strands
rubbed between thumb and finger
and a few words to the Obeah man,*
the fiend becomes your master.

Yesterday, unburdened by the voices
of the wise ones, tinged with little nostalgia,
he threw his children's hair in the dustbin.

The brown, black, dark brown fluffs,
aren't unlike the ones he sweeps-up
in his barber shop everyday.

He does not own the souls of others.
He has had no time, nor will
to search for an obeah man.

*Obeah man = Caribbean equivalent of a witch doctor


Fraid under de house
fear screams
from John-John's eyes
rushes out his mouth
grate our ears.

He flees, knees buckling,
into the arms of anyone
willing to save him
from the white orb.
Mama stops his flight,
cocoons him.

Fraid under de house
John-John mumbles
and thrashes about.
Mama mops his feverish head,
rubs him down with bay rum.

Papa prays and counts
his rosary beads
and we stand around,
watch anxiety-gripped
waiting on mama's command.

Papa has gone out
to haul buckets of sand
from a beach nearby
to spread around the house
drawing the line between
the living and the dead.
Dey wont cross de barrier,
the elders assure us.

The burden lifted,
John-John sleeps long.
A large wooden crucifix
hangs on his headboard.
An open Bible rests on a table
and Christ looks down
from the wall across the room.



Jumbi Eyes

I hold the eyes in cupped hands.
Black pupils dot red orbs
so many, so tiny
they slip through my fingers.

Some West Indians stay away
fear jumbi eyes that glow
like hot embers in the dark
if you set your mind on them.

Jumbis repossess their eyes
at midnight, chant in your ears,
Tek me back weh you get me from.

The daring scour the bush
for the beady eyes,
pluck them from pods
soak them in water
and pierce the pupils
with thick sharp needles,
string them on twine.

Tourists rush vendors
in search of mementos
braided hair, a photo-op
with an iguana, a donkey,
and that t-shirt that reads
   I be jammin.

They buy a jumbi bead necklace,
sail away, fly off,
beads clasping their throats,
not knowing the dead are tourists too.

*Jumbi- the spirit of the dead.

Turn the Broomstick Up


Grandma's anger smoulders
as Sister Mavis, joints rheumatism ridden,
rakes up stale stories. We have taken turns
to offer her ginger beer and sweet bread,
have become listless listeners imprisoned in armchairs.
Our eyelids are heavy in the Sunday afternoon heat.
Grandma has gone to the kitchen to furiously sweep
imaginary dust and has turned the broomstick up.


You can hear the car chugging up
the hilly island road. Behind the wheel
is a glib-tongued vendor. The trunk is loaded
with brocaded, bed-spreads, suits and dresses
to pay down on and pay up on forever.
Grandma, peeping through the lattice, shouts
turn the broomstick up.


Relatives appear like ghosts on a haunt.
They seek handouts or a place to dwell
until they get on their feet.
They will cause budget strains,
crammed quarters and strife
because big-hearted papa cant say no.
Mammy's stern eyes tell us to
turn the broomstick up.


We can see them coming.
Pairs carry pamphlets,
wear kind faces and ready smiles.
Religious tales fall out of their sweet mouths.
Thoughts of conversion stir in their heads.
They persuade those with eroding faith
to join their Kingdom Halls.
Stop them crossing the yard.
They will turn us into Watch Tower zombies.
I have turned the broomstick up.


It's not only the recently deceased
that invade our homes.
Turn the broomstick up.

Web Weaving


Someone smeared blood
on Nymades's door.

Stinging ants
crawl under her skin.
Albino lizards drop
on her bare shoulders.
A grey net of spider webs
has spread across her path.

She can feel the crawling sting
the cold flesh, the thick gossamer.

Syllas' name invades her brooding.
In her dreams she stops at Syllas' house.


Sylla, who gave birth
to a still-born,
found a dragon*in her bedroom.

In the hut of potions and fetishes
she set off a witch hunt
when Yakpawolo cast his spell.

*Dragon-a fetish wrapped in cloth and tied with string

*Obeah (sometimes spelled "Obi") is a term used in the West Indies to refer to folk magic, sorcery, and religious practices derived from Central African and West African origins. Obeah can either be a form of 'dark' magic or 'good' magic. As such, Obeah is similar to Palo, Voodoo, Santeria, rootwork, and hoodoo. Obeah is practiced in Suriname, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Belize, the Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados and many other Caribbean countries.

Born in Antigua, West Indies, Althea Romeo-Mark grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is an educator who lived in the U.S.A; Liberia, West Africa; London, England and presently lives in Switzerland. She has published short stories and poems in the Virgin Islands (The Caribbean Writer), Liberia (www.liberiaseabreeze.com), Puerto Rico, the U.S.A., Germany, Norway, England and Switzerland. For more information on Romeo-Mark, check out her blog at www.aromaproductions.vox.com.

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