Manchineel: St. Kitts

Thomas Reiter

Waiting at a jitney stop, these boys
in school uniform. Today’s history lesson
told of voyagers on a ship whose mainsail
blessed the New World with a painted cross.

A Carib elder greeted them as
men from the sky. Remembering
the crab apples of Andalusia, they threw down
their pikes and arquebuses, cast off

their greaves and doublets, then gathered
fruit from the manchineel.
They danced around the tree singing
ballads of passion and betrayal.

So the boys do a turn around a manchineel
singing “Roots Radical” by Jimmy Cliff,
how “the Babylon system get us down.”
They wheel stiff-legged like Carnival

stilt dancers and flap their arms.
Then they flop down to die, poisoned,
like those discoverers whose blood
pulsed from mouth and nose and ears.

The boys wail, “O forgive me my sins.”
The captain ordered every manchineel
to bear a painted skull and crossbones.
These rise, slap hands and start again

before the crowded bus appears.
Each holds an Andalusian apple he mimes
eating. They roll their eyes
in the ecstasy of men from the sky.