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.