‘I Have Outlived My Penis’

Ralph Thompson on the Calabash stage

That’s the far-from-flaccid opening line of the poem Ralph Thompson performed on the open mike at the Calabash International Literary Festival, held two weekends ago in Treasure Beach. The calabash was full to the brim and running over with all sorts of literary delicacies. And some delightfully indelicate offerings as well.

Rigor mortis of the penis is not exactly the kind of stiffness the average Jamaican man advertises. Most men who can’t stand firmly on their third leg tend to cunningly conceal that fact. By the time the deceit is uncovered, it’s usually too late for the disappointed partner to withdraw strategically. Some pretense at resuscitation must be made, however futile.

But, of course, Ralph is no ordinary man. He’s a poet. And he’s licensed to form the fool. The poet often wears a mask and speaks out of both sides of the mouth. You can’t assume that he or she is speaking autobiographically. No self-respecting Jamaican man, poet or not, would publicly declare, especially in front of a huge audience, that he, personally, is suffering from penile failure. Fun is fun and joke is joke. A confession of that delicate nature would definitely be taking a limp joke too far.

No lead in the pencil

My suspicion that Ralph was putting us on was confirmed when one of his friends (who must remain nameless) gleefully told me that it was he who had given Ralph that potent opening line. That may be true. But Ralph turned the single sentence into a witty poem. His punchline was deadly: writing had become a substitute for sex. The penis as pencil – with or without lead! Retooling becomes high art.

Willie Nelson

As it turns out, the confession of the death of the member is a clear case of ‘thief from thief, Massa God laugh’. A quick Google search revealed that the joke is a Willie Nelson original:

My nookie days are over

My pilot light is out

What used to be my sex appeal

Is now my waterspout.

With a name like Willie, Nelson must have taken firm measures all his life to ensure that his namesake remained lively. But, alas, not all ends come good. So even if it’s only tongue in cheek, inevitably it’s time for true confession. All the same, Nelson’s willie cannot be taken at face value. Like Ralph’s, it seems to be just lying low, waiting to spring poetically to life.

‘Di world no level’

What’s good for the poet should be good for the DJ too. But ‘jackass seh di world no level’. And it’s true. Every ‘chune’ a DJ chants is interpreted as a literal statement of fact by dim-witted cynics. Unlike the poet, the DJ is not allowed to wear a mask and play roles. So Buju Banton sings a humorous song about sending a driver to ‘drop this arizona round a Albamarle’. And it becomes a true confession of the artiste’s involvement in drug trafficking!

Bruce Golding

Bruce Golding, the driver whose licence has now been revoked, chose to ride the ‘riddim’ of Buju’s hit. It became a very popular Jamaica Labour Party campaign song. Nobody in the party seemed to be bothered by the song’s ‘criminal’ message. Driver was taken for what it was: a clever song about the trade in ganja, a widely used recreational drug. Admittedly, for Rastafari, ganja is ‘creational’, infusing them with divine energy.

Peter Tosh, like many reggae artistes such as Toots Hibbert and Bunny Wailer who have been imprisoned for possession of ganja, made a lifelong plea for decriminalisation:

Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it

Judges smoke it, even the lawyer too.

So you’ve got to legalise it,

And don’t criticise it

Legalise it, yeah, yeah,

And I will advertise it.


The high point of the Calabash festival for me was hearing Ronnie Kasrils reflect on his extremely risky work as a member of the African National Congress (ANC), which he joined in 1960. In his memoir, Armed and Dangerous, published in 1993, he writes about what it meant for him, as a white South African, to participate in the freedom struggles of black people. He also wrote a biography of his wife, Eleanor, who shared his lifelong commitment to social justice. He called it The Unlikely Secret Agent.

Kasrils also talked about the role of reggae artistes like Peter Tosh in chanting down apartheid. We sometimes forget the global impact of our artistes who are often dismissed at home as mere criminals.

That’s precisely why Justine Henzell, who has inherited the film-making genes of her father, Perry, is producing a documentary for Jamaica 50 in which she includes coverage of reggae across the world, in the spirit of the iconic movie The Harder They Come.


It was the Jamaican High Commission in South Africa that put Justine in touch with the hugely popular selector, Admiral, whose African Storm sound system plays every Thursday in Soweto. He was invited to clash with a local Treasure Beach selector, Andrew, at Cala-Clash  which is always a big hit at the literary festival.  ‘Admiral mash up di place.’  The week after Calabash, he was a guest selector at Stone Love.

This really is a small world. Kwame Dawes went to a conference in South Africa where he met Ronnie Kasrils. He was completely absorbed by the life story of this remarkable man. When Ronnie heard of Kwame’s Jamaican roots, he told him that his son, Andy, had been invited to Jamaica for a literary festival.  It was Admiral. Kwame immediately invited Ronnie to come as well.

Andy Kasrils grew up in exile in London and discovered reggae through his Jamaican friends. In 1987, following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the ANC liberation army ‘MK’ in Angola. On his return to South Africa, he started a dancehall show on the Voice of Soweto community radio and has not looked back. By the time I got around to buying Ronnie’s book on his wife, he’d left the festival. So I asked Admiral to sign it for me. He was most amused when I explained the meaning of our proverb, ‘If you can’t catch Kwaku, yu catch him shirt.’

Dudus Sings And Bruce Croaks?

Bruce Golding

It had to come to this. It was only a matter of time. Bruce Golding has finally been forced to accept the fact that his political career is over. He couldn’t have lasted until the next general election. He’s become a very heavy burden for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to carry. Saddled with a leader who has scandalously earned the damning reputation of being an unrepentant liar, the party had no choice but to rear up and pitch Bruce off its back.

Well, that’s how it looks from the outside. And in the absence of information, all one can do is speculate. The prime minister’s impenetrable silence has allowed conspiracy theorists and journalists to enjoy a whole week of asking wicked questions and fabricating even more wicked answers about his sudden resignation.

Did the Central executive of the JLP really agree unanimously not to accept Bruce Golding’s resignation this time round? Or did the executive just say no because it would have looked bad if it had immediately said, “Thank you, Jesus!” Is there anyone in the executive who actually wants Bruce to stay? Does Bruce himself want to stay, or is he dying to go?

Was it a foreign taskmaster that drew the whip that lashed the horse that threw Bruce Golding to the ground? Was Dudus’ admission of guilt on all counts a factor in the prime minister’s resignation? What, exactly, if anything, has Dudus told his captors about who knows what and when they knew it? Is our prime minister implicated? Is this why he has precipitately resigned? Did Dudus sing? And, if so, was it his song that made Bruce croak?

Left in limbo

Last Sunday, immediately after making his dramatic announcement to the JLP’s Central Executive of his imminent departure from politics, the prime minister should have properly addressed the nation on this burning matter. We shouldn’t have been left in limbo. After all, Bruce Golding is not just the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party. First and foremost, he’s Jamaica’s prime minister.

Golding’s apparent refusal to treat the nation with respect on the urgent business of his latest resignation takes us right back to his bumbling confusion of roles in the Dudus extradition fiasco.

Even now, Golding does not seem to understand that he needs to clearly separate the function of party leader from that of prime minister.

Caught in a compromising position with Dudus, the prime minister tried to blame the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party for his predicament. Or was it the other way around? Who knows? In any case, the two had clearly become one and the same in Golding’s mind; and neither seemed to be acting on principle. It was all about political expediency.

Almost a year and a half ago when Bruce Golding first announced that he intended to resign as JLP leader and, consequently, as prime minister, the party’s Central Executive should have gladly accepted his decision. It was obvious then that he had become a liability. His reputation was so tarnished that no amount of ‘cake soap’ could bleach it out.

All the same, Bruce did try to rehabilitate himself. He came on TV asking the Jamaican people to forgive him for his sins. Since we are a fundamentalist, Christian society, if only in name, diehard believers did forgive, though some of us simply could not forget.

And we put up with the ‘poppyshow’ Dudus-Manatt commission of enquiry when we all knew that nothing would come of it. I got a very good joke on the commission at one of the farmers’ markets in Kingston. I’m very suspicious of vegetables that are too big and pretty. I fear that deadly fertiliser accounts for the pumped-up look of the produce.

So when I saw some tomatoes that seemed to be a reasonable size, I asked the vendor if she was the farmer and if she had used fertiliser on them. She reassured me that the tomatoes were ‘organic’. Wanting to believe her, I optimistically asked, “Yu naa tell mi no lie?” Her friend who was helping on the stall wittily replied, “This is not the commission of enquiry.”

A youthful Sister P

Clovis cartoon (Jamaica Observer)

And what of Golding’s successor? As it turns out, some of the very same members of the JLP Central Executive who supposedly refused to accept his resignation last Sunday are now jostling to replace him. That’s politics, I suppose. ‘An it no pretty.’

The front-runners in the race appear to be Audley Shaw and Andrew Holness. By all accounts, Shaw has done much better as minister of finance than was expected. But that is not exactly a glowing recommendation. The bar of expectations was set rather low, I suspect.

In the case of Holness, I have grave reservations about a candidate who doesn’t appreciate the therapeutic value of a choice ‘bad’ word. As a teacher of literature, I can recall that our minister of education wanted to ban Zee Edgell’s classic novel Beka Lamb because of the author’s use of expletives. Surely, the minister ought to be focusing on more pressing matters like ‘failing schools’!

Las May Cartoon (Jamaica Gleaner)

Mike Henry, at 75, cannot possibly be serious about competing for the post of party leader and prime minister. Since the next general election is already shaping up to be a contest between youth and age, he would definitely give Sister P a welcome advantage. Almost 10 years his junior, the leader of the Opposition would be magically transformed into a rather youthful candidate by comparison.

For the time being, Bruce Golding is still our prime minister. I hope that in his message to the nation this evening, he will come clean and tell us the plain truth about why he’s resigning at this psychological moment. Perhaps, that’s too much to expect. ‘Jack Mandora, mi no choose none.’

Politically incorrect humour

In the recent cabinet reshuffle, Karl Samuda and Dorothy Lightbourne become victims of Bruce Golding’s murderous rage.  Well, that’s the message of Las May’s cartoon last Monday.  Poor Karl and Dor are standing on the sidewalk, like many an innocent pedestrian, minding their own business.   With their back to the street, the ‘sacrificial lambs’ are unaware that a lunatic ‘Driva’ is threatening to mow them down. As the car hurtles towards them, Bruce maniacally observes, ‘They won’t know what hit them!’

And that is supposed to be funny.  In a society where the rules of the road are regularly violated Las May thinks it’s cute to portray the prime minister in this dementedly lawless way.  The cartoon in the morning tabloid that same day wasn’t much better.  Using the identical metaphor of the vehicle as a weapon, the cartoonist portrays the prime minister as a murderer, deliberately pushing Dor to her death.  The driver of that bus, more rational than the ‘Driva,’ attempts to bring the vehicle to a screeching halt.  But he anticipates failure.  So he prophetically exclaims, ‘Dorothy dead now!!’

I can’t blame either cartoonist for the publication of their politically incorrect ‘jokes’.  They are entitled to their twisted sense of humour.  It is the editor of a newspaper who is ultimately responsible for what is published, particularly on the editorial pages.  So that’s where the buck stops.  But since making a buck seems to be the main business of newspapers these days, editors often sell out to sell papers.

‘Only in Jamaica’

Making a joke of the violence on our streets is particularly cavalier coming so soon after the murder of Khajeel Mais.


A deranged man shoots up a taxi, killing a passenger, because his luxury SUV has been damaged in an accident!  It’s the kind of story that makes cynics say, ‘Only in Jamaica.’ But, of course, this kind of demonic rage is not peculiarly Jamaican.  It’s a sign of the times.  Status symbols have much greater value than human beings.  Life is cheap; BMW’s are expensive.

On top of that, the gun itself has become a status symbol.  These days, if you don’t own a gun, ‘yu naa seh notn’.  A gun is like a fashion accessory or a credit card.  You don’t leave home without it, as the American express slogan advises. If the driver of that SUV didn’t have a gun in his possession, Khajeel would still be alive.  In the good old days, the enraged motorist might have had a machete for protection.  And, most likely, someone would have been able to restrain him as he attempted to ‘slew’ the taxi-driver.

Ian Boyne

The gun culture in Jamaica is now so widespread that we will soon have to stop blaming the dancehall DJs for all of the violence in the society. Veteran journalist Ian Boyne is notorious for demonising dancehall music.  In a Sunday Gleaner article, “The Gully-Gaza War,” (September 20, 2009) he piously pontificates:

“It had to come to this. I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. When some academics were talking mumbo-jumbo and making all kinds of absurd excuses and rationalisation for the decadence in the dancehall, engaging in pathetic shadow boxing, I confronted their intellectual cowardice.

The ‘violence’ that middle-class people like me saw in dancehall lyrics was more a reflection of our literary philistinism and reflexive bourgeois condemnation of poor people’s cultural expression. The violence which we deplored was just harmless metaphor. We were using a hammer to kill a flea and engaging in the usual middle-class – and in my case, ‘fundamentalist’ – hysteria.”

As one of the academics ‘talking mumbo-jumbo’ about metaphor in dancehall culture, I wonder by what circuitous route Ian Boyne could possibly blame the dancehall DJs for the literal violence of our missing SUV driver.  But I don’t put it past him.  Anything is possible once you identify a scapegoat and put the sins of the entire society on the sacrificial victim’s head.

Lyrical gunshots

It’s not only the DJs who ‘draw’ gun violence both literally and metaphorically. Even respectable people in Jamaica who claim they don’t understand the ‘vulgar’ lyrics of the DJs have gotten accustomed to using gun imagery.  You think you’ve found the right solution to a problem.  So you say, ‘That’s the shot.’

A Christian minister rejoices in his Easter morning sermon:  ‘Jesus Christ is risen, pram pram!’  Divine gunshots.   I’m not making it up.  One of my students at the University of the West Indies, Mona, who knows of my interest in the subject of the lyrical gun, reported what she’d heard in church.

Dr. Davidson

I still remember vividly Dr. Winston Davidson’s tribute to his friend Professor Carl Stone at the memorial service. ‘Winty’ used a startling image to convey the extraordinary power of his friend’s mind:  ‘His brain functioned like an M16 rifle set on rapid, supported by an inexhaustible quantity of live ammunition.’

Dr. Davidson’s lyrical turn of phrase is a symbolic gun salute to a fallen hero.  The goodly physician didn’t literally ‘fire two shot’ at the ceiling of the University chapel to punctuate his point.  And he did ask permission to speak colloquially.  He knew he was trespassing on the boundaries of middle-class respectability.

All the same, Dr. Davidson’s lyrical gunshots demonstrate the degree to which gun violence is now accepted as ‘normal’ by all social classes in Jamaica.  In much the same way, we know that road safety is a thing of the past. What is truly terrifying is the fearful prospect that the cartoonists’ provocative portrait of the prime minister as a diabolical ‘Driva’ may not just be politically incorrect humour but an accurate reflection of the affairs of state.  And that’s no reason to say ‘pram pram!’

Bruce Golding, Man of the Year/Man a di Ier

Rudyard Kipling, that apologist for British imperialism, wrote a famous poem, “If,” which many of us were forced to memorise in primary school.  It’s a rousing celebration of single-minded, macho warrior-hood.  I adapt it here in ironic tribute to my “Man of the Year,” Bruce Golding:

If you can keep your head when all around you

Are blaming you for bringing disgrace upon the nation;

If you can press along without resigning

When all men, women, children doubt your word;

If you can linger and not be tired of lingering,

Or, having lied, pretend to be lied about,

Or, being caught, don’t give way to retribution

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can be delusional and not see truth;

If you can think that no one else is thinking;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the lies you’ve spoken

Repeated by honest men to make a trap for you,

Or watch the errors you have repeated,

Mount into a heap of tired failures;

If you can take a chance on Brady, Dudus and Manatt

And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and yet refuse to call it a day

And never breathe a word of shame about your loss

Even when ‘Wikileaks’ unleashes a new flood of deceit;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To stay in office after respect is dead and gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to you: “Hold on”;

If you can talk in circles and never see straight,

Or walk with dons – nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can help you;

If all men count you down and out

And still 
you feel entitled to be PM

And keep on shadowboxing in the ring

Yours is the next election victory, that’s for sure,

And – which is more – you’ll be my ‘Man of the Year’!

Bruce Golding, Man a di Ier

Rudyard Kipling, im a wan a dem man fram Ingglan we did difen di British govament wen dem dida waak aal bout kriyieshan a tiif ada piipl lan an fuos dem fi gi op fi dem uona liviti an tek aan Ingglish kolcha.  Im rait wan big-taim poem we im kaal “If.” Plenti a wi did ha fi laan an memba it wen wi did de ina praimeri skuul. Dem de liriks a fi mek di macho man dem biit op dem ches wen dem a go a waar.  Mi chienj op di liriks fi ‘big op’ fi mi “Man a di Ier,” Bruce Golding.

If yu kyan kip yu hed wen evribadi roun yu

A bliem yu fi bring dong disgries pan di nieshan;

If yu can pres alang an no rizain

Wen man, uman, pikni no biliiv a wod yu se;

If yu kyan lingga an no taiyad a lingga,

Ar tel lai an gwaan laik se a dem a tel lai pan yu,

Ar dem kech yu an yu gwaan laik a notn

An stil far aal, yu no luk so gud,

An yu no taak so sensibl;

If yu kyan fuul op yuself an no si di chruut;

If yu kyan tink se nobadi els naa tink;

If yu kyan bok op vikchri an kraasiz

An gwaan laik di tuu impasta dem a di sed siem ting;

If yu hab strang stomok fi hier anes piipl chrap yu

Tel yu bak di lai dem we yu tel

Ar yu wach di huol hiip a mistiek yu kip aan mekin

A mount op ina wan big dongl a fielya;

If yu kyan tek chaans pon Brady, Dudus an Manatt

An bet yu laas dala pan dem chriis haas

An laas yu bet, an naa gi op

An neva admit se yu shiem bout aal a wa yu luuz

Aal wen ‘Wikileaks’ let aaf a neks set a lai;

If yu kyan fuos yu haat an suol an badi

Fi tan iina afis lang aafta rispek ded an gaan,

An yu a heng aan wen di ongl ting a kip yu op

A chruu yu mek op yu main fi “Heng aan”;

If yu kyan go roun an roun an neva si chriet,

Ar waak wid dan – an stil muov roun puor piipl

If niida yu enemi nar yu gud fren kyaan help yu

If aal a di refarii dem kount yu doun an out

An stil far aal yu fiil yu mos an boun fi bi PM

An kip aan a baks baks iina di ring;

A yu a go win di neks ilekshan, chros mi

An – pan tap a dat – a yu a fi mi ‘Man a di Ier!

Wa mek dem a wies moni, Mis?

Aks eni praimeri skuul pikni ina Jamieka – bwoi ar gorl – fi ansa di kweschan dem pon di egzam piepa wa di Praim Minista set fi di komishana dem.  Di fos ting di pikni uda se a dis: “Dem doan nuo di ansa dem, Mis?  Ii, Mis?  Wa mek dem a wies moni fi aks dem de kweschan?  Dem no kuda tek di moni fiks op som a di skuul dem? Mis, mek mii tel dem!

Yu si, Dudus, Mis.  Im a wan big, big dan ina di Praim Minista kanstichuensi.  Yes, Mis.  Big, big, big!  An im av nof moni.  Mi no nuo we im get di moni fram, Mis.  Bot iz nof, nof, nof, nof moni.  An, Mis, im gi out plenti moni tu di piipl dem ina di kanstichuensi.  Muor dan di Praim Minista.  Yes, Mis, wan a mi fren mada get huol hiip a moni fran im.

Obama sen fi Dudus

.Tingz a gwaan gud yu nuo, Mis.  So til wan die, Obama sen mechiz tu govament se im waan Dudus kom a Merika fi taak tu im.   Im waan nuo we Dudus get di huol hiip a moni.  If a sel im a sel jogs an gon. An fi wi govament gi Dudus di mechiz.

Dudus ina Merika

Mis, Dudus se im naa go.  Obama tuu faas!  We im waan nuo im bizniz fa?  Dudus taak tu im MP.  Yes, Mis.  Entaim yu ina chrobl, Mis, yu ha fi go taak tu yu MP.  Yu MP mos an boun fi elp yu. Yu vuot fi im.  An im ha fi luk aafta yu.  Ar yu naa vuot fi im agen.  An yu naa gi im no moni fi ron ilekshan.  Wa yu se, Mis?  Yes, Mis, somtaim di MP iz a uman.  Laik Sista P.

Dudus taak tu im MP.  Dat a Bruce Golding, Mis, di Praim Minista. An Bruce an dem oda wan ina di Jamieka Lieba Paati mek up dem main se dem naa sen Dudus go gi Obama.  Dem get wan big-taim laaya, Misa Brady, fi taak to som ada big-taim laaya ina Merika – dem niem Manatt, Phelps an Phillips – fi fain out ou dem fi priti it op an tel Obama, gwe!

Peter Phillips bos di stuori

An, Mis, a so it a gwaan.  Peter Phillips im, dem se im a CIA, Mis, a im bos di stuori bout Manatt ina paaliment.  Yes, Mis.  An di Praim Minista se notn no go so.  Peter Phillips neva res so til di Praim Minista ha fi admit se a im did tel Misa Brady fi taak tu Manatt. Bot, Mis, im se im did tel im fi tel Manatt se a di JLP dem a wok fa, no di govament.

Peter Phillips

Huol hiip a piipl staat baal out se di Praim Minista tuu lai.  Im fi rizain.  Im go pan TV an im baal di livin ai waata an se im sari.  An som a di piipl dem sari fi im, Mis, an gi im a chaans.  An im neva rizain.  Im wiil an kom agen.

Likl, likl oda tingz staat kom out we mek it luk laik se di Praim Minista neva tel di huol a di chruut wen im did a baal pan TV.  A no di Praim Minista wan, Mis.  Plenti a di hai ops ina govament, dem miks op ina di miks-op an blenda.  It luk bad ii, Mis!

Bruce Golding a kansida

So a it mek di Praim Minista set up fi im ‘Commission of Enquiry.’    Mis, di komishana dem kyan fuors di Praim Minista fi taak di chruut?  Wa mek im no jos taak di chruut an don?”