The Road to Chocolate Plantation: A Poem

November 5, 2019   •   By Malcolm Tariq

This poem will appear in the next issue of the LARB Quarterly Journal: Weather, No. 24


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The Road to Chocolate Plantation


I


We leave Savannah in search of searching.

                My foot weighs down the road for an hour


until we cross over into Meridian — a journey

                I’ve taken before, not in this seat


but following my cousin’s curious eye

                for history. At sixteen, I understood then


what I can’t recall today. I remember

                the drive, the walk to the shore, and


the bus ride into Sapelo. I remember picking at

                a charred mullet fish fresh from the water,


roaming the heritage festival, scanning a Bible

                in Gullah — native and not. Today there is none


of that, only the deeper search of remembrance

                and belonging — capturing some stable place


between rippling gray water and shore.

                I drive further. In the back, my baby


brother’s head bobs against the window —

                his first journey, already courting sleep.


II


At the port we board the school bus, its rickety

                machinery — aged but useful — carries us


into the island, past Behavior Cemetery,

                past the post office, past into another past.


The tour guide’s heavy foot plunges further

                and we lurch into the dense coastal Georgia bush —


the stick-like trunks tall and fallen, the spikey

                growth of small palm trees waving us through.


Beneath us, the red earth brambles up

                after yesterday’s rain, the puddles bound


to form rivers that could swallow us

                here on an island nearly lost to memory.


We trudge forward, and I see myself

                in my brother sitting across from me


as if on a school field trip, unsure

                of the destination but down for the ride.


III


At Chocolate Plantation

                I heed a path trotted for me before.


I am this studious — furthering

                and furthering and furthering. What else


is there but the tabby walls crushed

                beneath my feet, nearly forgotten?


Like me, they too were shaped by the hands

                of ancestors. Beyond, my brother


walks through and in the historical,

                not privy to the storied. At ten years old,


he looks for the shells that have fallen

                from brick, those dislodged


or never having found place in stone.

                I wonder what he will take from this


and search for narrative, placing the hollow

                against my own for a voice, a whisper, a sigh.


We explore separately, seventeen years

                between us and what we believe to know


about heritage. In the end, we each take

                what we need to survive.


On an opposite shore, I ask what he has learned.

“That the slaves made these,” he says,


holding forth his collection of fragile fossil.

                He is the smarter one, having taken narrative


into his own hands before its forgetting —

                using more than his ear for the listening.


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Malcolm Tariq is poet and playwright from Savannah, Georgia. He is the author of Heed the Hollow (Graywolf Press, 2019), winner of the 2018 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and Extended Play (Gertrude Press, 2017).