Monday, February 22, 2016

John Agard - English Girl Eats Her First Mango

English Girl Eats Her First Mango by John Agard
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2016
Model Juliana Thompson Alaniz
John Agard meticulously mines the dark history of slavery and later indentured servitude that lies behind Caribbean cultures.  His writing is characteristically eloquent and his choice of words reveal lush stories with a mischievous brand of humor.  The Caribbean verse is brought to life thru a creole, audacious voice original to the vivid, colorful images that John Agard depicts. 

In his poem: ‘English Girl Eats Her First Mango’, Agard surprises his audience with a lyrical, sensual song about an English girl who has never before eaten a mango.  Its verses perfectly describe the colorful personality of the people of the Caribbean.  The language is in a creole, picaresque style reflecting the rhythm of the island dialects.   

In the poem, a boy offers an English girl a mango.  The young girl, who has never before eaten or seen one, asks what she’s supposed to do with it.  How can she begin to eat it?  Should she peel it?  The boy describes to her in vivid, musical words the manner in which the mango can be eaten; and he tells her not to forget the sweetest part of all, the heart.  At one point, the girl is compared to Eve and the apple in paradise.  The girl begins to eat the mango and at the end she is covered in sticky juice.  She asks him for a cloth with which to clean her fingers.  To which he tells her not be so fine, to simply lick her fingers, with which he concludes that what he has just done is “colonization in reverse” by introducing the girl to an important part of his culture thru the mango.  In this poem, it's  impossible not to see, smell, and taste the delicious fruit that comes to symbolize the exchange of cultures.   

John Agard

English Girl Eats Her First Mango

a kind of love poem

"If I did tell she
hold this gold
of sundizzy
tonguelicking juicy
mouthwater flow
ripe with love
from the tropics

she woulda tell me
trust you to be

so I just say
taste this mango

and I watch she hold
the smooth cheeks
of the mango
blushing yellow
and a glow
rush to she own cheeks

and she ask me
what do I do now
just bite into it?

and I was tempted
to tell she
why not be a devil
and eat of the skin
of original sin

but she woulda tell me
trust you to be

so I just say
it’s up to you
if you want to peel it

and I watch she feel it
as something precious
then she smile and say
looks delicious

and I tell she
don’t waste sweet words
when sweetness
in your hand

just bite it man
peel it with the teeth
that God give you

or better yet
do like me mother
used to do
and squeeze
till the flesh
turn syrup
nibble a hole
then suck the gold
like bubby
in child mouth
squeeze and tease out
every drop of spice

sounds nice
me friend tell me

and I remind she
that this ain’t
apple core
so don’t forget
the seed
suck that too
the sweetest part
the juice does run
down to your heart

man if you see
the English rose
she face was bliss
down to the pink
of she toes

and when she finish
she smile
and turn to me

lend me your hanky
my fingers
are all sticky
with mango juice

and I had to tell she
what hanky
you talking bout
you don’t know
when you eat mango
you hanky
is your tongue

man just lick
you finger
you call that
lick your finger
you call that

unless you prefer
to call it
in reverse"

John Agard is an acclaimed poet, story writer, playwright, and performer born in 1949 in Georgetown, Guyana, an island nestled in the Carribean.  The Carribean islands are the paradise that was fought over by the British, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch colonizers.  European powers established a presence in the Caribbean and brought with them millions of slaves imported from Africa to support the tropical plantation system.  As a result of colonization, there was a mixture of people that were of indigenous, African, and European descent which has come to be known as Creolization.  

John Agard currently resides in The United Kingdom.  In 2012, he was honored with the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.  Other awards and accolades include Casa De las Américas Prize (Cuba) 1982, for Man to Pan, Paul Hamlyn Award for Poetry (1997), British Book Awards (2007) Decibel Writer of the Year (shortlist) for We Brits, among many others.  He has been celebrated for his world famous poem Half Caste, published in a collection in 2005, in which he criticizes the use of the term “half-caste”, a popular British term that affects black and mixed race individuals. 

Written by Leticia Alaniz © 2016 

English Girl Eats Her First Mango 
Published in The Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry 1992
Selected by Stewart Brown and Ian McDonald
Heinemann Educational Publishers