Jane Armstrong

Gri-Gri

Early in our asso­ci­a­tion, the Warrior Poet said, “I’m a war­rior poet.  Before I walk into a place, I look around to make sure I can kill every­one in the room with my bare hands.”

Now the Warrior Poet is dead.  Self-inflict­ed.

My father.  WWII.  U.S. Army, front­line infantry.  Battle of the Bulge.  Bronze Star.  Purple Heart.

Before he shoots him­self, he tries to take a cou­ple of peo­ple out with him.  My evil ex-step­moth­er, her cur­rent hus­band.  The bul­lets graze the hus­band, but miss the step­moth­er.  She hits the floor, plays dead, and prays and prays to her snow-globe Jesus, her cow face pressed against filthy car­pet.

The voodoo flags were a gift.  Swirling sequins hand-sewn on thick satin.  I hang one in the liv­ing room, one in my bed­room, one in my office at the uni­ver­si­ty.  “Haitian folk art,” I say if any­one asked.

Simbi Ounzu, water god.  On his flag, a spear parts waves of green and blue.  Water sus­tains.  Water chokes.

___________

The Warrior Poet has plant­ed one of his 22-year-old con­cu­bines in my class to observe and report on my ped­a­gog­i­cal stan­dards and prac­tices.  I cut his head­shot out of a fac­ul­ty newslet­ter and paste it over the face of a Christmas ornament—a wood­en elf whose arms and legs jump when you pull a string.

I hold the voodoo elf up to the flag of Simbi Ounzu in my office and say, “Simbi Ounzu, hear my plea.”

I sub­merge the elf in the sink of the women’s restroom.

I take it out­side and swing it in a snow­bank.

Next day, the Warrior Poet is angry.  The water pipes in his house have burst in the freez­ing night.  $3000 in dam­ages.

Papa Loco, a pow­er­ful cross­roads god.  A gold­en dol­lar sign flash­es on his flag.  Place your gri-gri at intersections–roads cross­ing rail­road tracks are strongest.  Be care­ful.  Papa can bring you mon­ey, or he can take it away.

I am thir­teen.  My father hands me a hun­dred dol­lar bill. He says, “You look fine in those jeans.”  He says, “Don’t tell your sis­ter, but I love you more than any­thing in the world.”

Now I have all the pow­er.

Someone has put sev­ered chick­en parts on the Warrior Poet’s motor­cy­cle seat.  He accus­es me.  I swear to god, to all three of my gods, that I did not do it.

________________

My father calls on his way from where I used to live to where I live now.  I’m the only per­son he can talk to.  He’s flee­ing a war­rant.  Vague accu­sa­tions involv­ing his step-grand­daugh­ter.  She prob­a­bly fell on her bicy­cle, he says.  It must have been the han­dle­bars.  He wants to stay with me.  But I’m a col­lege stu­dent.  I have no room.  And even if.  I say no.

Dhambala Oueda.  She/He.  Creator/Destroyer.  Yellow snake bur­row­ing into the earth.  Pink blos­som open­ing to the sky.

Warrior Father. Warrior Poet.  Gun at tem­ple.  Gun at chest.  Fear unbear­able, heavy, press­ing. Battles fought, bat­tles lost, some of them with me, fierce and unfor­giv­ing.  Kill every­one in the room.

Voodoo gods are world­ly gods.  They demand food, drink, lit­tle trin­kets.  I offer hard can­dy, seashells, pock­et change.  Tormentor.  Coward.  I pay for pro­tec­tion.

~

Jane Armstrong’s sto­ries and essays have appeared in Newsweek, The North American Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, New Orleans Review, River Teeth, Brevity and else­where. Her com­men­taries have aired on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.  She teach­es at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.