At the moment I am writing a story about a Soucouyah (soucouyant) and to my great pleasure I found this video about the Trinidad Soucouyah featuring my mentor, and poet laureate, Anson Gonzalez.
Anson was very important in Trinidad’s literary development for his pioneering work in publishing The New Voices journal anthologies in the 1970s and 80s. He was one of the founding members of the Writers Union of Trinidad and Tobago, and, it was Anson who initiated the celebration of Poetry Day in 1970. Anson became Poet Laureate of Trinidad and Tobago in 2000 and was inscribed into the Memory of the World Register for the Caribbean and Latin America, awarded by the UNESCO Committee in 2015.
I knew Anson many many years ago now. I remember him introducing me to the literary scene in Trinidad: poetry readings at the Hilton, writing workshops in town, book launches at the Trinidad museum. I remember him taking me to a Hindu wedding in St. Augustine. I remember reading one of his poems at an event in honour of his work in Trinidad, the tintinabulations. I remember him telling me not to let motherhood stop me from writing.
Sadly Anson passed away in September, 2015, but not before his final book of poems was published. I’ve included Crossroads of Dream: Prose Poems, on the River-Stories Bookcase. Check it out.
In the video, Anson offers insights into the origins of the word ‘soucouyah’, and the influence the idea of the soucouyah has over the Trini psyche. He is joined by Trinidad historian greats, Michael Antony and Gerard Besson,
The video is one of the best archival works I’ve found detailing the characteristics and possible origins of the Soucoyah. It also talks about the possible socio-political background to the soucouyah, and reasons why the folklore character took root.
Here’s a short excerpt from my new story that led me to the video.
My Soucouyah and Me
‘A ball of flame, along she came, flying without the wind.’
There is fire, molten, red hot magma, with streams of shivering blue flame, snaking round her heart. She hides it from the wind, the sky, the stars, but under her lush beauty, there’s a beating fire heart. She lets the sunshine charm her, whispers promises to the night but beneath her dewy beauty is a seething, steaming fire. Betray her as the sky did, dig holes in her sand. You’ll part her sweet beauty and feel her searing hands. There’s a molten fire churning, red hot glowing flow, with form and curve and shape, under the smooth polished stone. Not for nothing I tell you this.
The birds have gone but a new night comes. Her plans can go ahead.
She lays the box down, gently on her bed and opens it with care. Then, releases. Rips each stitch, and unbinds the seam. Pulls me off softly, like a too tight slip or a snake skin. Hips swing and sway to ease me down, it doesn’t hurt, I swear. Peels me off, slip past her thighs and knees, and slide, skim her calves to fold at her ankles. The dance of her flame, shakes on the walls against the candle light. She steps out carefully. This is the slightly tricky part. Takes some skill. Lay me in the box and try not to singe the wood. The dance of the flame silhouettes on the wall. Almost as tall, almost as beautiful as I am, lying in my narrow, wooden bed.
I know what she knows.
Like an Eagle sees the twinkling night, laid out before her, the pricks of light that grid the roads, and graph, and pin-point out where Aggie’s house lies. Like the barrels of puncheon her mother said burned in the fields on that specific night.
Ahh the wind is too chill to ride, down a road, and up a hill. Rather crawl along the alleyways, hug the walls and sills, careful not to set anything ablaze.
And there, your door, with the knocker and the brass handle. Solid wood you bragged. Still no lock can keep her out. She finds the crack around the key and eases her way in silently. And now you sleep, just up the stairs, clinging to the lover in your bed. Unaware of what dances in his head. Is that what draws you away? Those skinny legs, arms so soft like risen bread, and belly, pushing out the matted hairs. Don’t worry sister Aggie, soon you’ll know, she needs more of you than he can give. She’ll set you free, from this lame, lumbering mediocrity. One drop of blood. One drop of blood, needling heat into his chest. One drop of blood. One drop of blood. She steals the spirit from his breath. Tastes it on her lips. Whistles. Fourth, fifth, sixth. Her shadow swirls like smoke or mist. She slips back out, under the window-sill.