The Caribbean Writer

Shelling Peas

Cecil Gray


With the moonlight’s pale whitewash slapped fresh on the road,
the night almost noiseless but for our voices,
we perched on the stone steps just up from the pavement.

Lemon stripes of feeble light ran down the half-closed
doors behind us. Sounds inside leaked out like whispers
purring. On the slope houses had new silver roofs.

Each of us kept his own given heap of pigeon
pea pods piled like a cache dose by, and with busy
fingers slitting and tearing the seams we would split

open the skins and spill the peas, yellow-green pearls,
to rise slowly in a white enamel basin.
The first ones hit the basin like a kettle drum

until the bottom was covered. Delight spluttered
from us in low giggly squeaks as the jokes began.
Perhaps owls hooted and the Orphanage bugle

across on the hill blew ‘lights out’. The grown-ups talked
their new gossip inside, leaving us with the moon
to finish the task filling the basin before

bedtime. If you found a seven-pea pod you put
it aside for good luck, and you chewed now and then
a fat juicy yellow bead with its brief half-sweet

flavor. It was a chance to tell stories about
supernatural creatures in forests, and donkeys
with fiery eyes roaming the empty streets late

at night, of stones failing on roofs. You remembered
the king, Papa Bois, lagahoo, soucouyant and
duennes, who changed skins or waited to lure innocent

children. We squealed and huddled close so the grown-ups
called out to be quiet and forbade us to scare
one another spinning frightening fictions. Hushed,

we studied the drain’s burning water, like a thick
shining wire; saw patches of shadow make heads
of monsters that shrank at the touch of the moon. When

only the trash remained for the bin the basin
was nearly full. We were called good little helpers
and sent into a forest of dreams. We kicked hard

under the sheets to keep off ghouls on the attack.
Soundless throats screamed for help to escape
packs of demons, while the moon just played hoop with clouds.

But we did it again the next time they set us
that chore in the moonlight. Maybe it was better,
the false terror after, than even the giggles

and laughter. We suffered the torture phantasms
wrought as we slept, but awoke from each nightmare
enthralled and shivering in warm pods of pleasure.


Copyright © Cecil Gray

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