The Road to Chocolate Plantation: A Poem




This poem will appear in the next issue of the LARB Quarterly Journal: Weather, No. 24

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The Road to Chocolate Plantation

I

We leave Savannah in search of searching.
                My foot weighs down the road for an hour

until we cross over into Meridian — a journey
                I’ve taken before, not in this seat

but following my cousin’s curious eye
                for history. At sixteen, I understood then

what I can’t recall today. I remember
                the drive, the walk to the shore, and

the bus ride into Sapelo. I remember picking at
                a charred mullet fish fresh from the water,

roaming the heritage festival, scanning a Bible
                in Gullah — native and not. Today there is none

of that, only the deeper search of remembrance
                and belonging — capturing some stable place

between rippling gray water and shore.
                I drive further. In the back, my baby

brother’s head bobs against the window —
                his first journey, already courting sleep.

II

At the port we board the school bus, its rickety
                machinery — aged but useful — carries us

into the island, past Behavior Cemetery,
                past the post office, past into another past.

The tour guide’s heavy foot plunges further
                and we lurch into the dense coastal Georgia bush —

the stick-like trunks tall and fallen, the spikey
                growth of small palm trees waving us through.

Beneath us, the red earth brambles up
                after yesterday’s rain, the puddles bound

to form rivers that could swallow us
                here on an island nearly lost to memory.

We trudge forward, and I see myself
                in my brother sitting across from me

as if on a school field trip, unsure
                of the destination but down for the ride.

III

At Chocolate Plantation
                I heed a path trotted for me before.

I am this studious — furthering
                and furthering and furthering. What else

is there but the tabby walls crushed
                beneath my feet, nearly forgotten?

Like me, they too were shaped by the hands
                of ancestors. Beyond, my brother

walks through and in the historical,
                not privy to the storied. At ten years old,

he looks for the shells that have fallen
                from brick, those dislodged

or never having found place in stone.
                I wonder what he will take from this

and search for narrative, placing the hollow
                against my own for a voice, a whisper, a sigh.

We explore separately, seventeen years
                between us and what we believe to know

about heritage. In the end, we each take
                what we need to survive.

On an opposite shore, I ask what he has learned.
“That the slaves made these,” he says,

holding forth his collection of fragile fossil.
                He is the smarter one, having taken narrative

into his own hands before its forgetting —
                using more than his ear for the listening.

¤

Malcolm Tariq is poet and playwright from Savannah, Georgia. He is the author of Heed the Hollow (Graywolf Press, 2019), winner of the 2018 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and Extended Play (Gertrude Press, 2017). 


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