Goatwater #9


Goatwater is a column which explores the mystifying, joyous and liberating concept of Carnival through the New York born and raised, Caribbean-American perspective of poet and artist Tiffany Osedra Miller. 


How to Write About Your Shadow

How to Write About Your Shadow
Write honestly and descriptively about your Shadow.
Write in near darkness so God cannot read what you write.
Use a pen.


Teacher, how do I write about my shadow
when I no longer have one?
I am a Virgin for the third and last time.
And God has forgiven me
for watching pornography

Carnival is a celebration of the shadow
We all have a shadow.
You can deny it
Or resist –
The shadow persists

But you don’t know me!

I know you very well.
I have seen you driving
through the countryside
offering men, a special ride
during carnival time

One evening, after you ditched your car
you put on another mask
and joined a group of
Revelers wearing crowns
or let’s say a motleyed porn
of phallic, devil’s horns on their heads.
You all shook the shadows from the trees.
The shadows fell down like rotten fruits
and transformed into gunmen, highwaymen
black magic women and femme fatales,
performers in blackface –
False icons and Caribbean-American Golems
This was simply Theater of the Black hole, Carnival
located behind the curtain of the
Preacherman’s Black Veil
made out of his favorite fishnets.

The shadows chased you and the other Revelers
to the carnival grounds,
where in the jubilee and chaos
loincloths and big macatampas
the shadows mounted the lot of you
Before you all made your carnival rounds.
Now, Student, write that shit down!

That is your story not mine!
A good, decent story is hard to find –

I’m not looking for a decent story.
Come, now, you still know all that you have gained
from taking and breaking the Sugarcane.
Who can you blame for all of the pleasure
you have found in inflicting pain?
You are capable of doing it again…

But, I am ashamed…

Facing the shadow will heal you.

I choose to face God.

If God is your Everything, then the shadow is God, too,
Perhaps before we can write about the shadow
We must strangle the damned thing, then hide it in a back room
Or drown it at Half Moon Bay
walk back into the light
turn around and see that the damned thing is still there!
Call it the monkey on your back, the heart of darkness
your one, true, black friend.
It is your Pimp and Pinocchio
Pickaninny and Black Widow
It can assume any and all forms.
It is carnival time! Get out your horns…

Look! There are buxom shadows standing in rustic doorways
from Paris to New Orleans, to Hunt’s Point
to the tenement yards of Kingston
The corners of the Villa Area of St. John’s, Antigua

Take a literary picture
and write a sketch, while burning sage
then turn over yourself to the whiteness of the waiting page.

How lucky you are to have survived
So that you can write your cruelest Carnivals on paper – in pen!

Let your shadow drag you down then up the ladder
to the house of the rising sun
Is it Jacob’s ladder? Or a dream ladder all your own
Notice the other stairway to
the pimper’s paradise built into your caramel walls

Go deep into the roots of the trees that surround the house
Weeping willows, cypress,
as those trees reach deep into the carnival of the dark, fertile earth –
Can you see this? Can you feel that? Can you write about any of it?

Teacher! I can recall the shadow of a boy I saw walking the countryside of Louisiana late at night. The boy was alone and I was nearby spending time with a young man. We were outside, sitting close together on an overheated trinity of decrepit concrete steps leading to nowhere. He was a gang-banger from California. As nice looking as the singer, Al B. Sure! – minus the unibrow. Tall, brown, with intense acne and an addiction to chewing gum as he was self-conscious about his breath. His eyes were sad and soft. He showed me his gun. No, not his, horn. His gun. A real gun. And he let me hold it. No, not his horn. Stop thinking that. But, his gun. A real gun. A pistol.

But I was distracted by the shadow of that boy walking the countryside alone. When I say boy, I mean he was a teenager like me. His hands were pushed in his pockets. His head was down. So I couldn’t see whatever hardened mask he fashioned for his vulnerable face. Who broke his heart? Was it me? Was it me?

Before then, I had never held a gun but I beheld what a gun in the hand of a shadow could do. How it put a hole in my friend’s little brother’s head and shot up a young man’s older brother sitting in a car in Brooklyn trying to get his life together or how it removed the holy spirit from a Catholic schoolboy laughing with abandon near the Whitestone Bridge. The gang-banger in Louisiana wanted to impress me. I am not sure I was impressed.
He kissed me. I could taste his perspiration and No-Frills cologne. I don’t know which one of us held his gun during the romantic act. Or maybe we placed it on the incomplete staircase. His chewing gum barely hid the sourness of his breath.

But was that the gang banger’s shadow or my shadow walking in the distance? Were there two shadows I saw, instead of one? Hands deep in our empty pockets?

Write that shit down

Tiffany Osedra Miller