Rigorous
Volume Three, Issue 3



Confessions of an Overprivileged Mulatto

Natasha N. Deonarain


1

His home movies, a cousin’s birthday
party on Isipingo Beach
and we’re in fast forward,
blowing up colored balloons on a windy day.

Everyone owns a brown round
face
except my Dutch mother who’s dyed
her toffee hair black,
dabbed a red dot
in the middle of her forehead. Someone’s balloon
catches the wind. He chases it
like nothing else in the world matters.

We watch,
laughing without sound.


2

I don’t remember
shanty towns, dingy streets, scruffy
uncollared dogs, ragged shoeless kids—

but I remember
our maid, natted hair caught
in fine tooth combs qualifying her to be our
hired help.

Her skin was only a few shades
darker than mine, she spoke broken English
from the bottom of her throat,
thick tongue sometimes getting
in the way.

Her son was my best friend,
nose broader and lips thicker
than mine.
We played on swings, bounced
on teeter totters, ran barefoot past
light sand beaches and shaded signs that read
“For Whites Only.”

But there was a sense of order, unquestioned
hierarchy, comforting
lines dividing right from wrong, good
from bad, day from
night; an organized framework upon
which everything else could rest. Inside
our designated spaces we felt
safe, almost
but
not quite
loved.


3

There’s a picture.
He stands
one leg propped on a low stone wall. The
house behind has only one window,
pock-marked green paint, tired
wooden door.

Bits of paper, tin cans,
machine parts scatter on a grassless
lawn in front. He leans on one elbow,
the other knuckling his waist, face sporting
an even toothed grin,
rebellious black
lock flopping over one eye—

His face is a relocated northern Alberta meadow,
dandelions, pussy willow, wild rose, house sparrows,
Common Redpoll, dragonflies
swaying prairie grasses flooded in gold, daring
you to make of it
what you will.


4

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tells the world
Canada
is open for business, although
most other businesses want to increase
their bottom line, not level it to the ground. He
wants 1.3 million
permanent residents
by 2021, larger than the city
I remember.

He’s kicked soldiers
out of their barracks to make room
for a population
swell, given monthly
stipends larger
than senior citizen pension checks
while mentally disabled homeless vets fill
corners
like sewage runoff,

crowd into temporary shelters
for warmth while Justin reminds us all;

they ask for too much.

She wears ‘Made In Canada’ shoes,
walks
down a school hallway, personal interpreter by her side.
Mother, father, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, and uncles
have come too. They all walk
to the front of the line in overcrowded emergency rooms.
Native blue eyes glaze, gagged by a new law,
awaiting their turn.

Her education is free.

She’s entitled to an interpreter,
housing costs, personal finance help,
furniture allowance, designer ski jackets for selfie ops
with the Prime Minister,
food, telephone lines, free healthcare, dental and
vision.

She walks past her teacher,
mutters under her breath;
“Infidel.”


5

When
he first arrived, he rented
an old house near the
University Hospital to finish off his
medical residency. Already a practicing doctor
he was admitted
on merit, what he could contribute to his adopted
new land, a few hundred
dollars, wife,
three kids.

That first year, the landlord refused
to fix the plumbing. My mother used the frozen
spigot in the yard
to wash dirty diapers, clothed us from
Goodwill, fed us Wonder Bread, butter and
granulated sugar
instead of spicy curries, filled our bellies
with as much white
as we could stomach.


6

We were
the brown family living in
White Hall Square Apartments, soon followed
by low income town housing just off the freeway.
On weekends, he’d
scour neighborhood dump sites, bring
home scrap construction, turn pieces of kitchen
laminate countertops into master
bedroom headboards, oddly shaped
wood pieces into useable furniture.

Lying
on fresh cut
grass, I’d stare
at the apartment tower where
he’d go to study
for his exams, watching its
heavy concrete walls drift
in front of immovable clouds—

a haunting feeling of vertigo
that spun my world upside down
while I waited there for him to come home.


7

He failed his residency exams
two
maybe three times; needed a job.

There was an opening
in a small town seven hours north
of the city but soon after
got a better one
eight hours south. He left us with her
growing up without him at dinner, building snow forts,
lobbing wet snowballs at each other, stamping through
shaded pine and poplar and alongside
railroad tracks arguing about the best way
to take down a Grizzly with our bare
hands.

Once
we found an abandoned log cabin
but when a twig cracked our hearts fled
like startled chick-a-dees,
we raced back
through multi-hued carpets of leaves,
gasping with relief in the bright light where we could feel
safe.

I’d fall
asleep, waiting for him to come home.


8

A few years
later, he packed the car, drove us back
to the city,
pulled up in the driveway
of a split level. Our eyes popped;
one bedroom for each
kid, tin shed, white
picket fence,
finished basement.

We
were rich.


9

He dreamed of building a mansion
on a sweeping plot of land that dipped down
to the ravine. Getting up at dawn,
barely washed, throwing on old T-shirts over
stained suit pants,
he’d pour
over diagrams for hours,
water his garden vegetables and flowers,
stomp dirt through the house, every spare minute
imagining the
double staircase sweeping right and left,
open kitchen, living and dining rooms, spiral
staircase, jacuzzi hot tub, volleyball court and zen garden.

His bills
grew tall and bushy, debt sinking
deep into rich soil
but he couldn’t stop, Sisyphus sickening
with every uphill step. He
bought high
sold low, maxed out lines
of credit, footsteps
echoing in a massive empty nest, grey
streaks in his hair and
beard until finally, he looked like the Shih Tzu he’d bought
to keep him company. But
in the mirror always the young man
with a few small
dollars
in his pocket and big thoughts resting heavy
on his shoulders—

posing in front of crumbling fresco walls.


10

Justin
smiles for his selfish selfie, dimples
dent his cheeks, hair
blows in some imaginary breeze, white boat
adrift in an ocean of
scarves. Factcheck
from government websites

correct our nagging suspicions so
we can feel safe that refugees don’t get
more money than pensioners
who’d worked hard all their lives. But
the comment thread
below official websites
corrects their corrections,
search engines correct corrected corrections
with surreptitious algorithms, editing
anything that smells
of too much freedom
except of course, entitlements.

coyote11 says (s)he’s sick
of this government already
and B wants to
apply for refugee assistance instead of a pension,
hoping to better make ends meet
this month.

Jugs filled with contrived sound pour down
from above, spill bites onto sacred ground,
ooze like steaming lava
in every direction
from a central spout. Soon our jugs will be empty
and all that’s left
will lie supine upon flat earth, staring at immovable clouds,
our new paradigm;

red borders no longer
able to contain the sharp
white edges of a
jagged leaf.


11

We
don’t keep ashes. We
don’t sing bhajans, our embarrassment seeping
from this halfway space we’ve occupied
since we were too naive
to know any better.

Instead, we wrap him in a piece of tin foil
with rice balls,
sweetmeats,
coconut,
fruit,
flower petals,
fennel seeds; all from the priest’s puja,
all for him to eat along his journey,

a candle
to light his way through darkness, a candle
to set him free where the flowing waters of Peace and Athabasca
meet to make one final trip
north to the Arctic
Ocean.


12

His
father wanted to give him everything
when he left.
The rest of the family resented him
for abandoning
his home, but told him
he was wrong
to leave them alone, no matter
what unspeakable rights were out there to
forgive.

He took nothing. Left
everything to his only brother, said he’d be all right,
he’d make it well enough
out there on his own.


Natasha N. Deonarain: "My recent poems have been published or are forthcoming in Thin Air, Dime Show Review, Prometheus Dreaming and Canyon Voices Literary Magazine (2019). My history includes winning second place in the 5th Annual Chandler-Gilbert Community College Stand and Deliver Poetry Slam Competition (2013), also published online at Poetry for Living Waters, and publications in The Little Red Tree International Poetry Prize Anthology (2012). I’ve also published numerous nonfiction works that have appeared on websites and in print including Kevinmd, GlobalTrends and various others.

I currently live part-time in Arizona and Denver with my husband."




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