“I seek freedom in the indefinable”: Five Poems by Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming

Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming

(born 1960, Trinidad and Tobago)

The Om


My Tanty used to sing/pray

evening ragas to the Earth Goddess

morning oblations to the Sun God


Now my Aunty prays

that I find salvation in the cross

in the church that has freed her

from indenture, from coolieness


Yet I seek freedom

in the indefinable

the OM

the puja breath that expands

my rib cage

with blessed pitchpine smoke

into an oval

large as the cosmic egg


The sea breath


That echoes

In the conch shell

Blowing across the Caroni

Infinite like green plains

Of sugarcane

Or a milky river veiling

The face of the goddess


.     .     .


The Broken Key



Half left in the keyhole

Bright bronze blocking

Locking the door


Only a tiny drill

Can turn into powder

The hardened one

Reopen the door

Allow a human being

To become the way

For grace to come through



Half broken off

Round with jagged edge

As if the full moon

Had been gnawed by some

Celestial beast

Gnawed like the ropes

That bind us together

One tug away from



The sound of a key breaking

In the keyhole of our door

How can we reopen the door?

How can we ever let grace

Come through again?

.     .     .



A quartet of ospreys calls

Kee-uk kee-uk cheep cheep

Kee-uk kee-uk cheep cheep

Riding on air currents

Beneath a periwinkle sky

Decibelled by steelpan carols


A sailboat chips along

Over cobalt blue near the horizon

As David Rudder’s voice solos

From the CD-player


A soulful Go Tell It on The Mountain


A white and orange tabby saunters

Along the boardwalk

Sasses Meow

Without stopping to marvel

At the ingenuity

Of Zanda and Hadeed’s

Playful panjazz fusion


The Mighty Shadow melodies

Greetings in a lover’s kaiso

While at the foot of the dune

Sixty feet down

The sea swashes in threes

A soft wetsandsmooth

Rake and Scrape response

Submerged voices of ghost Tainos


.     .     .


Beneath the Trees


These round roots encircle me

Like tubes

In a hospital bed but here there is no

Antiseptic scent

No sterile handwashing


Here the earth smells like wet moss

And when I bite into these roots

They taste of peppery pine

And green fruit: sugar apple maybe


Beneath these trees

I need no clothes to feel clothed

These gnarled roots with their humus

Coating warm my nakedness

In a cocoon soft like corn silk


The phloem and xylem passages

That carry messages

Between the sun and these roots

Water and feed my muscles

Giving them a turgidity

Like the fullness of youth


These roots do not just encase me

They cradle me

Like a mother’s arms


My heartbeat echoes

Through these roots

This earth

And I know

I have become

an incarnation

of Sita

Returning to her mother

Bhumi Devi: the great Earth Mother

Beneath these trees


.     .     .


Alphabet of Memory


I took with me seeds

Tiny dots of bhandhania

Flat, almost round disks of pimento pepper

And oval, plump legumes of seim

That I planted

With varying degrees of success

Wanting to feel at home

Where I have traveled to


Then I found

In a cobwebby closet

The alphabet of memory

I had brought with me

Some letters sharp as a tropical noonday

Others hazy

As a smoky dry season dusk


Letters which I shuffled

And then played a game of scrabble

Until I had used them all up

To create words

Then poems

To make me feel at home


.     .     .


Poet’s glossary:

Coolieness: East Indian Indentured Labourers who were brought to the West Indies, and their descendents are sometimes called ‘coolie’, as an insult. In my poem, ‘Coolieness’ refers to the East Indian culture that still exists in Trinidad and Tobago.


Puja (Bhojpuri Hindi): A personal, familial, or public Hindu prayer service or worship.


Caroni: A river in Trinidad and Tobago. The river plains, called the Caroni Plains were once used for sugar cane farming.


David Rudder: A calypsonian from Trinidad and Tobago.


Zanda: Clive Alexander, aka Zanda, or Clive Zanda Alexander, is a jazz pianist from Trinidad and Tobago.


Hadeed: Annise Hadeed is a steel pan soloist and composer from Trinidad and Tobago.


The Mighty Shadow: A calypsonian from Trinidad and Tobago.


Kaiso (Trinidad and Tobago Creole): Calypso


phloem and xylem: The primary components of the vascular tissues in plants, which transport the fluid and nutrients throughout the plant.


Sita: (Sanskrit: meaning “furrow”) is the wife of Lord Rama and one of the principal figures of the Ramayana, the epic Hindu scripture. As the devoted wife of Lord Rama, Sita is regarded as the most esteemed exemplar of womanly elegance and wifely virtue in Hinduism.


Bhandhania: The Hindi name for the herb, used in cooking, otherwise known as wild coriander or culantro.


Seim: The Hindi name for the Hyacinth bean, the green pods of which are used as a vegetable.


.     .     .     .     .

Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming is an engineer, poet and fiction writer.  She won the David Hough Literary Prize (2001) and the Canute A. Brodhurst Prize (2009) from The Caribbean Writer Literary Journal; and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association 2001 Short Story Competition. She is the author of two poetry collections: Curry Flavour, published by Peepal Tree Press (2000) and Immortelle and Bhandaaraa Poems, published by Proverse Hong Kong (2011).


Zócalo Poets wishes to thank guest-editor Andre Bagoo

for introducing us to the poetry of Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming.