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In 1982, for a college trimester, I studied and did “service work” in the newly independent nation of Belize. Looking back, I don’t think the Belizeans much desired or needed my “service,” but the experience certainly served me well! I left for Central America as a farm girl who had rarely traveled beyond the borders of my home state. I returned full of amazement at the world and unsure of my privileged place in it.

This week I found myself traveling in memory back to Georgetown, the remote Garifuna village in the Belizean rainforest where I lived for a short seven weeks. This poem is the result of my time travels.

I want to thank Rafter Ferwa Jaffery for an imaginative remark at Wednesday’s Creatives’ Coffee that ended up altering my approach to the poem.

(Maybe you’ll join the fun at our next Coffee?)


Phyllis Cole-Dai

Georgetown, Belize, 1982

See all the pretty little houses, how they stand
like scoops of sorbet on stilts—lemon, melon,
tangerine, plum. Maybe the huts are built
with legs to guard against the threat of floods,
though the sea is stranded hours from here
and the river’s throat is parched. Or maybe
the legs are meant to keep out the spiders,
the vipers, the scorpions, the ants. Or to raise
a patch of shade above the chore woman
sweating rain beneath the floor, scrubbing
your clothes on a steel washboard, cooking
your meals of cassava bread and coffee, roasted
iguana with coconut rice, pan-fried fish still
wearing their heads. Or maybe you live high
for the sake of the windows, flung wide to let
in the breeze tossing the tops of the kapok trees.
Or to give the steep wooden steps good reason to
rise. Or maybe those legs are just for this: to allow
the old house to roam at night while, bedded down
safe within its walls, you hug your pillow and dream.


Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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