American Life in Poetry: Column 743


I’m afraid that if I’d asked my grandparents what the past was like they’d say it was “hard,” and that would be it.But Megan Arlett is privileged to have a grandmother who knows how to enchant us with colors and odors and sounds.Arlett was born in the U.K., grew up in Spain, and now lives in Texas.

I Ask My Grandmother What Trinidad Was Like in 1960

Paradise with a thousand stings, she replies.
Deep blue and blazing sky. Incessant cicadas,
scuttle of bug and roach. Fleas, mosquitos,
the threat of scorpions. Men leaning on doorposts,
crowding the bar. Smoking, drinking,
laughing descendants of slaves. Fire coral burns,
reef-edge barracudas. Truly lovely.
Matriarchal, she says, women with eight children
by many different men. The men would leave
as the spirit took them. I want
to know all the forces one can call spirit.
Tall, swaying fronds of the sugar cane fields.
Distant roar heralding a downpour. Snapping turtles.
Nearby shanty town, she says,
streets full of rubbish, rats in the gutter.
I admired the colonial-style homes, she says.
Colonial, I say.
Separate servant quarters and grounds
filled with samaan trees, the balconies overflowing
with hot-colored orchids and the locusts drawn close
by the palatial lights, colorful and clawing,
their hooks sunk deep into the bare skin of a sweating back.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2018 by Megan J. Arlett, “I Ask My Grandmother What Trinidad Was Like in 1960,” from Third Coast, (Spring/Summer, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Megan J. Arlett and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.