In Cutlish, a title referencing the rural recasting of the cutlass or machete, Rajiv Mohabir creates a form migrated from Caribbean chutney music in order to verse the precarity of a queer Indo-Caribbean speaker in the newest context of the United States. By joining the disparate threads of his fading, often derided, multilingual Guyanese Creole and Guyanese Bhojpuri linguistic inheritances, Mohabir mingles the ghosts that haunt from the cane fields his ancestors worked with the canonical colonial education of his elders, creating a new syncretic American poetry — pushing through the “post” of postcolonial, the “poet” in the poetic.
Coolie naam dharaiya je hamke tej pakardaye
cutlish jaisan kate hamke Guyanwa mein aaike
With this whip-scar iron shackle name Aja
contract-bound, whole day cut cane; come night he drink
up rum for so until he wine-up and pitch in
the trench’s black water and cries, Oh Manager!
until sugar and pressure claim he two eyes.
De backra manager laugh we—so come so done.
I was born a crabdog devotee of the silent
god, the jungle god, the god crosser-of-seas. White tongues
licked the sweet Demerara of my sores. Now
Stateside, Americans erase my serf story;
call me Indian. Can’t they hear kalapani
in my voice, my breath’s marine layer when I say?
They made us hold the name Coolie,
like a cutlass it bit us coming to Guyana.
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