Monday, September 16, 2013

Girl

"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid is one of my all-time favorite poems. I taught it every year to my high school students and, in turn, I, also, learned something new every time. Let's see what you glean from it:


Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don't walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn't have gum on it, because that way it won't hold up well after a wash; soak salt fish overnight before you cook it; is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way that it won't turn someone else's stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming; don't sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn't speak to wharf–rat boys, not even to give directions; don't eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you; but I don't sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school; this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a button–hole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father's khaki shirt so that it doesn't have a crease; this is how you iron your father's khaki pants so that they don't have a crease; this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants; when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well, and this way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit; don't squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know; don't pick people's flowers—you might catch something; don't throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all; this is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona; this is how to make pepper pot; this is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child; this is how to catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don't like, and that way something bad won't fall on you; this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man; and if this doesn't work there are other ways, and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up; this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn't fall on you; this is how to make ends meet; always squeeze bread to make sure it's fresh; but what if the baker won't let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won't let near the bread?


Can you relate this to your childhood? To your parenting journey? To today's society?

2 comments:

  1. i think the lesson is to sift what you are told, combine it with what you observe yourself, and take only what seems like good advice. ("question everything; dismiss what insults your soul.") and there is good advice in this selection, certainly, mixed in with a lot that confuses, and some things that would insult the soul...

    must confess, though, i've no clue what the benna thing is that she is not to sing in sunday school. never run across that word before! off to google it...

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  2. There's an odd paradox going on. There's well meaning advice coupled with the notion that out really doesn't matter in the end because "you really aren't going to amount to a hill of beans".

    It makes me mindful to consider the future of my children when I give them pearls of knowledge. Am I talking to a future scientist? Then perhaps I should explain the science behind rust and why he must put his bike in the shed after using it. Am I pushing gender roles on my children when I push her in the kitchen and him onto the field? Am I instilling fear of the world or awareness of their surroundings? Am I speaking greatness into and about my children while asst the same time speaking weaknesses and skepticism? I Need to be mindful of speaking or demonstrating mixed messages that confuse their little innocent and literal minds.

    Only send one message. Live good, honest, fulfilling lives doing things that make your heart smile. You are amazing because you are, and you aren't, and you exist, and I love you.

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