Nellie / nicolette bethel

They tell me you were always stubborn,
always impatient, efficient as a hammer
and as hard. When the sister whose bed you shared
forgot, in her daydream, to straighten it,
you made your side, smoothing and pulling
the sheets from the middle. You left hers alone.

It wasn’t you your father cut down
with lead words like ballast
yellow fool, yellow fool. It wasn’t you
men took for granted; they wouldn’t dare.
Still. They tell me the hardness was a shell,
was a shell; said you hit hard, aimed to kill
before you could be touched. Said the animals

knew: the pigeons flew to you, roosted
crooning on your shoulders, and the rabbits
hopped to you, dogs rolled at your feet,
and cats purred in your presence. Said
if you’d been white and a man your thread
would sew wounds, not whitemen’s trousers.

But this is how I knew you: sewing clothes
for a living, your round brown body
quick as silver for hugs, for slaps;
a harsh tongue, a soft lap, your heart tender,
as vulnerable as a lamb, and your temper
fast as fire, twice as hot, till the stroke
robbed you of speech and of memory,
laid you in a cradle, tied your hands, etched
your frown still deeper on your brow, sent you
wandering through twilight searching for your sisters,
seeking to answer when they called.


Nicolette Bethel is a Bahamian playwright, poet and anthropologist who served as the Director of Cultural Affairs for The Bahamas Government. Her work has been published in a variety of print and online publications, including the Caribbean Writer, the Caribbean Review of Books, sx Salon, PouiWomanSpeak and Yinna, the Journal of The Bahamas Association for Cultural Studies. She is the editor of the online literary journal, tongues of the ocean.

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