Is ol’ mas’ one carnival,
the best we could have fashioned
from our fathers’ discarded clothes.
In fat-pants and suspenders,
felt hats at our eyebrows,
we went to the railway station,
jammin’ steelband a cappella
as we headed for the city.
Almost everyone was on the hadj
to Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain.
Royalty from unknown civilizations,
in silk and lamé, hobnobbed
with families of spectators
whose baskets filled our carriage
with aromas of peas and rice, and curry.
Outside the city terminus
a pack of half-naked devils descended.
Skins oily blue, and ochre.
Horned foreheads. Upturned tails
bobbing in wicked waist motion.
“Pay de devil! Pay de devil!” they chanted,
hustling purgatory dues from the crowd.
An ol’ mas’ band came along:
women in men’s clothes,
men in diapers, sucking carnival formula
from nippled Vat 19 and Old Oak rum bottles.
We revelled with them awhile
before jumpin’ behind giant butterflies
all the way to the Savannah.
There, at the confluence of worlds,
fantastic creatures swarmed overhead.
And down the streets,
from the empires of imagination,
flowed waves of mortal souls
dancing in the sunlight.
Nigel Darbasie lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
He emigrated from Trinidad, West Indies, in 1969.
This poem, from his collection “A Map of the Island”,
brings us a nostalgic memory of Carnival in the 1960s
from the point-of-view of a lively, observant boy.
“Monday Jump-Up” is here used by permission of
The University of Alberta Press.
This year, 2012, today – February 20th – is the
“Monday” in the title of Darbasie’s poem:
a.k.a. J’Ouvert (Opening Day) of Trinidad Carnival.