Sunday Poem

‘The yellow of the Caribbean seen from Jamaica at three in the afternoon.’
– Gabriel García Márquez

Meditation on Yellow


At three in the afternoon
you landed here at El Dorado
(for heat engenders gold and
fires the brain)
Had I known I would have
brewed you up some yellow fever-grass
and arsenic

but we were peaceful then
child-like in the yellow dawn of our innocence

so in exchange for a string of islands
and two continents

you gave us a string of beads
and some hawk’s bells

which was fine by me personally
for I have never wanted to possess things
I prefer copper anyway
the smell pleases our lord Yucahuna
our mother Attabeira
It’s just that copper and gold hammered into guanin
worn in the solar pendants favoured by our holy men
fooled you into thinking we possessed the real thing
(you were not the last to be fooled by our

As for silver
I find that metal a bit cold
The contents of our mines
I would have let you take for one small mirror
to catch and hold the sun

I like to feel alive
to the possibilities
of yellow

lightning striking

perhaps as you sip tea
at three in the afternoon
a bit incontinent
despite your vast holdings
(though I was gratified to note
that despite the difference in our skins
our piss was exactly the same shade of yellow)

I wished for you
a sudden enlightenment that
we were not the Indies
nor Cathay
No Yellow Peril here
though after you came
plenty of bananas
sugar cane
You gave us these for our
– in that respect
there was fair exchange

But it was gold
on your mind
gold the light
in your eyes
gold the crown
of the Queen of Spain
(who had a daughter)
gold the prize
of your life
the crowning glory
the gateway to heaven
the golden altar
(which I saw in Seville
five hundred years after)

Though I couldn’t help noticing
(this filled me with dread):

silver was your armour
silver the cross of your Lord
silver the steel in your countenance
silver the glint of your sword
silver the bullet I bite

Golden the macca
the weeds
which mark our passing
the only survivors
on yellow-streaked soil

We were The Good Indians
The Red Indians
The Dead Indians

We were not golden
We were a shade too brown.


At some hotel
overlooking the sea
you can take tea
at three in the afternoon
served by me
skin burnt black as toast
(for which management apologizes)

but I’ve been travelling long
cross the sea in the sun-hot
I’ve been slaving in the cane rows
for your sugar
I’ve been ripening coffee beans
for your morning break
I’ve been dallying on the docks
loading your bananas
I’ve been toiling in orange groves
for your marmalade
I’ve been peeling ginger
for your relish
I’ve been chopping cocoa pods
for your chocolate bars
I’ve been mining aluminium
for your foil

And just when I thought
I could rest
pour my own
– something soothing
like fever-grass and lemon –
cut my ten
in the kitchen
take five

a new set of people
to lie bare-assed in the sun
wanting gold on their bodies
cane-rows in their hair
with beads – even bells

So I serving them
Red Stripe beer
I cane-rowing their hair
with my beads

But still they want more
want it strong
want it long
want it black
want it green
want it dread

Though I not quarrelsome
I have to say: look
I tired now

I give you the gold
I give you the land
I give you the breeze
I give you the beaches
I give you the yellow sand
I give you the golden crystals

And I reach to the stage where
(though I not impolite)
I have to say: lump it
or leave it
I can’t give anymore

For one day before I die
from five hundred years of servitude
I due to move
from kitchen to front verandah
overlooking the Caribbean Sea
drinking real tea
with honey and lemon
eating bread (lightly toasted, well buttered)
with Seville orange marmalade

I want to feel mellow
in that three o’clock yellow

I want to feel
though you own
the silver tea service
the communion plate
you don’t own
the tropics anymore

I want to feel
you cannot take away

the sun dropping by every day
for a chat

I want to feel
you cannot stop
Yellow Macca bursting through
the soil reminding us
of what’s buried there

You cannot stop
those street gals
those streggehs
Golden Shower
flaunting themselves everywhere

I want to feel:

you cannot tear my song
from my throat

you cannot erase the memory
of my story

you cannot catch
my rhythm

(for you have to born
with that)

you cannot comprehend
the magic

of anacondas changing into rivers
like the Amazon
boas dancing in my garden
arcing into rainbows
(and I haven’t had a drop
to drink – yet)

You cannot reverse
Bob Marley wailing

making me feel
so mellow

in that Caribbean yellow
at three o’clock

any day now.

by Olive Senior

from Gardening in the Tropics
Bloodaxe Books, © 1994