The Two Sisters Cave by Lorna Goodison


Guilty as charged, yes, I was years in the pay of the Mad Men.

                       Drew on my deep word  hoard to sell

                                   outdoor carpeting

and  washed over gold; which is to say: base metal gilded like

                       a dance hall don’s lily, who skin out,

                                   bares all naked

for a fifty cent music video ; what else to do with my poet gift

                        starve in a garret-like backroom?

                                    No, I did my next best

exhalted flat house paint same way as I would  delicate egg tempera;

                       ( and to think I thought fine art

                                    my great love)

I created commercials; one such meant to animate the Hellshire Hills;

                       white marly old home of the  coney

                                   now Arawak ghost village.

Is there anywhere a sun as hot as in that place is?

On the first day’s shoot, me, the local camera man and the foreign director

                        of  diorama and smoke and mirror

                                    real estate pipe dreams

were forced to seek shade from sun’s smite near the mouth of a great cave

                       known as  the two sisters; named

                                   for ancient rock

formation shaped like two women; or maybe so called because of  fabled

                          Taino legend of two sisters

                                   in a cave hiding out

From the blood hounds of the Spaniards, from the contagion come

                       sudden upon them when not

                         long before they were

sudding the white froth of root of cassava free of its take-life toxicity.

                       I’d like to think the two could have

                                   been me and  my sister

in past times when she and I in  kindness kept one another  company;

                       each to each supplying salt and light’s

                                   iron support .

We (both being action figures) might have projected ourselves to  the shore

                                    and stopped up the holes in Columbus’s

                                     `            rickety old boats

So he and his band of wreck sailors would have waked to find their holey

                                   boats seaworthy; and set sail

                                      and left us in peace.

My sister and me; if we two were the  ones holding council in that cave,

                             who knows how our family story

                                       would now read.

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Contributor Notes

Lorna Goodison was born in Jamaica, and has received much recognition and many awards for her writing in both poetry and prose, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Americas Region), the Musgrave Gold Medal from Jamaica, and most recently one of Canada’s largest literary prizes, the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction for From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island (published by Harper Collins/Amistad). Her paintings have been exhibited throughout the Americas and in Europe; and she has published two collections of short stories: Baby Mother and the King of Swords (Longman,1990) and Fool-Fool Rose is Leaving Labour-in-Vain Savannah (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2005). Her books of poetry include Tamarind Season (Kingston: Institute of Jamaica,1980), I Am Becoming My Mother (London: New Beacon, 1986), Heartease (London: New Beacon, 1988),Selected Poems (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992), To Us, All Flowers Are Roses (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), Turn Thanks (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999), Guinea Woman: New and Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2000), Travelling Mercies (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2001), Controlling the Silver (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005), Goldengrove: New and Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 2006). Her latest book, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and her People, was published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart in 2007, in the United States by Harper Collins/Amistad, and in the United Kingdom by Atlantic Books.


Lorna Goodison has taught at the University of Toronto, as well as at the University of Miami Caribbean Summer Institute, the University of the West Indies Caribbean Writers Program, the Sitka Summer Institute in Alaska. She has also conducted special workshops in the United States, Canada, Europe and the West Indies. She divides her time between Kingston, Jamaica; Toronto and Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia; and teaches in the Department of English and the Centre for African and Afroamerican Studies at the University of Michigan, where she is the Lemuel A. Johnson Collegiate Professor.