“The Road of the Dread” A Metaphor for A Time Like This

I have always felt an affinity for this poem by Lorna Goodison. It is not only the language used that phonetically reflects the Jamaican dialect, inclusive of the famous Rasta talk that created this affinity. But more importantly, it is the fact that even though this poem was written in the 1980s, it still reflects the need for us to be resilient in the face of oppressive forces, whether tangible or intangible.

The “Dread” that walks this road represents many persons, many of us, who are faced with different challenges in this lifetime. We are faced with this seemingly endlessly obstacle course of a road that we must traverse – this is life. While a great deal of the focus is on this road, of interest too is the speaker, who has obviously experienced not just hardships but poverty and injustice:

Pan dis same road ya sista
sometime yu drink yu salt sweat fi water
for yu sure sey at least dat no pisen,
and bread? yu picture it and chew it accordingly
and some time yu surprise fi know how dat full
man belly.

“The Road of the Dread”

It is clear that the speaker could be classified as being a member of the Rastafari community in Jamaica based on the “Rasta talk”, but many of us can identify with the experiences of oppression in one form or another. This could be in the physical, spiritual or mental realm. We all have felt oppressed along this road called life. In the extract above the speaker hints at passed betrayals that have caused him or her to be cautious in how they interact with others in their present and future reality. But within this very somber reality is also resilience. The resilent nature built intoour DNA, forces us to use what we have – even if it is only our imagination to weave a reality that can ensure our survival. At the end of the day working through our struggles is an act of self-preservation. To weave this world that ensures we survive we have to leave our starting point, we have to travel the road of the dread.

This archetype of the oppressed must travel this road or fail in their pursuit to survive. So he travels. Along the road there are many challenges and life ensures we are gifted with them:

for sometime you pass a ting
you know as . . . call it stone again
and is a snake ready fi squeeze yu
kill yu
or is a dead man tek him
possessions tease yu.
Then the place dem yu feel
is resting place because time
before that yu welcome like rain,
go dey again?

But, is that all there is to it. Is life filled wth snakes hiding in the grass ready to attack? Is the road littered with disingenuous persons who mean one thing when their mouths utter honyed words to ensare us into a boiling pot of vinegar? Yes it sounds a bit dramatic but we know that there are unspeakable tragedies that one can encounter on this road, so be grateful if you have not.

The answers to the questions above are also reflected in the poem: no. We see a shift of focus from all the trauma and tragedies waiting on the road that compels us to continue moving on this journey no matter how hard it may seem:

Den why I tread it brother?
well mek I tell yu bout the day dem
when the father send some little bird
that swallow flute fi trill me
and when him instruct the sun fi smile pan me first.
And the sky calm like sea when it sleep
and a breeze like a laugh follow mi.
Or the man find a stream that pure like baby mind
and the water ease down yu throat
and quiet yu inside.

And better still when yu meet another traveler
who have flour and yu have water and man and man
make bread together.
And dem time dey the road run straight and sure
like a young horse that cant tire
and yu catch a glimpse of the end
through the water in yu eye
I wont tell yu what I spy
but is fi dat alone I tread this road.

There are better days. On this journey there will be good times, when you can find joy in any situation at anytime. Where you can find hope pushing out of the soil, quivering relentlessly to thrive and flourish. When, like the speaker points out, “the father send some little bird that swallow flute fi trill me“, it is the little things that oftentimes matter and bring us back from the edge. We also see the importance of the spiritual as this “father” mentioned near the end of the poem,speaks to a creator who alone can bring us the kind of joy that will touch our souls, not the transient pleasures in this world. If we allow ourselves we too can be trill(ed), we too will have the sun smiling on us and the laughing breeze following us. All these personifications speak to the importance of taking time away from the world and finding peace beyond the physical, beyond those who would derail our purpose. Instead we need to find our metophorical stream, one that will put our minds at ease and allow us to find true peace while we are on this road.

What also becomes clear at the end of the poem, is the importance of finding our community. Those who will help us up and not push us down. We need to find our people who, like the speaker has found, one who have flour and yu have water and man and man make bread together. That is when the road of life becomes bearable, not when you can make do for yourself, but when you have the support of your community. So though the road of the dread is and can be indeed dreadful, there is hope. It is a hope that will tear down those barbed wire fences that we or others place around our lives to keep us limited, that makes us smile, laugh even, as tears pour from our eyes. It is the gift of transformative possibilities, present in the seemingly ordinary and simple blessings, gems even that act as the elixir that will drive our lives. These all supported by the community that will stand with and for us.

So continue to travel this road of the dread knowing that those things that threaten us have no power unless we never realise the truth of how much power we can harness we are once we stay the course and find our community.

   The Road of the Dread

That dey road no pave
like any other black-face road
it no have no definite color
and it fence two side
with live barbwire.

And no look fi no milepost
fi measure yu walking
and no tek no stone as
dead or familiar

for sometime you pass a ting
you know as . . . call it stone again
and is a snake ready fi squeeze yu
kill yu
or is a dead man tek him
possessions tease yu.
Then the place dem yu feel
is resting place because time
before that yu welcome like rain,
go dey again?
bad dawg, bad face tun fi drive yu underground
wey yu no have no light fi walk
and yu find sey that many yu meet who sey
them understand
is only from dem mout dem talk.
One good ting though, that same treatment
mek yu walk untold distance
for to continue yu have fe walk far
away from the wicked.

Pan dis same road ya sista
sometime yu drink yu salt sweat fi water
for yu sure sey at least dat no pisen,
and bread? yu picture it and chew it accordingly
and some time yu surprise fi know how dat full
man belly.

Some day no have no definite color
no beginning and no ending, it just name day
or night as how yu feel fi call it.

Den why I tread it brother?
well mek I tell yu bout the day dem
when the father send some little bird
that swallow flute fi trill me
and when him instruct the sun fi smile pan me first.
And the sky calm like sea when it sleep
and a breeze like a laugh follow mi.
Or the man find a stream that pure like baby mind
and the water ease down yu throat
and quiet yu inside.

And better still when yu meet another traveler
who have flour and yu have water and man and man
make bread together.
And dem time dey the road run straight and sure
like a young horse that cant tire
and yu catch a glimpse of the end
through the water in yu eye
I wont tell yu what I spy
but is fi dat alone I tread this road.




Lorna Goodison, Selected Poems, University of Michigan
Press, 1993.

I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine

I can only Imagine
all the pain you went through
all the doubts that defeated you
when you needed to fight
that's when you withdrew
and life continued to remind you
the only way to survive
is to be true to you.

I can only imagine
how great the burden was
bent double from wretched sobs
of loss and despair.

I can only imagine
how alone you felt
there were many
but not that one friend
who could give you a hand
no judging just to understand
that you were weak
foolish yes,
but not a freak
or abomination.

I can only imagine 
how you struggled to stay alive
not knowing how to survive
the greatest blow you ever received.
How even now you don't know how
how much grace you can allow
because nothing can ever be the same.

Be That Friend

Be That Friend

When I need comfort
comfort.
When I need a hand
give it.
When I need to be seen
be my eyes.
When I need to be authentic
speak it into me.
Be that friend
that will be there
spend time when
the ugliness oozes everywhere.
Be that friend.
Be my Wren
say my amen
dust me off again and again
whenever I fall
Be my friend
be my strength,
and I will never be weak.

When One Suffers…

When I would hear about a tragedy happening to someone, whether I knew them or not, I would immediately say, “that is so terrible” and immediately think, “thank God it’s not me!” I was relieved I had been spared the suffering that person was enduring at that time and I prayed fervently to God that it would never be my experience. You see, I naively believed that I was more special than others in their darkest moments. Little did I know that it was just that my turn had not come yet, but it would.

Now I believe that when one of us suffers we all suffer. Since the pandemic, I have heard too much of death and loss, of sudden tragedies and life-threatening emergencies. Through them, I have come to be more compassionate. So now my first thought is not that I must be lucky, but what can I do, what can I say to lessen the blow for that person. How can I be of service to ease some of their anxieties and pain? How much bearable those moments of loss, suffering and pain would be if we realised the importance of really, sincerely and authentically supporting each other. I know there is a sense of peace and comfort with knowing that many are with you, praying for you that many support and will lift you if you should fall and fall hard. It is good to know and this brings peace of mind that money or any valuable possession can never replace. W need each other.

For me, this is a truth I can see more clearly at times like these when uncertainties seem ever more present than they were before. We need each other, not to be separated by perceived advantages that make some feel more valuable, more visible and less silenced. We need each other because our very survival depends on it. Without each other, each of us will get lost along the way until there is no one who can if you a hand. No one to cheer you on, loudly and passionately, to the finish line

It is easy to turn away from someone else’s pain and suffering if we want to do so. However, because there are many threads that connect us in some way or another, it is impossible to avoid. So instead of trying to avoid the impossible, why not see your humanity in them and support, encourage and uplift them to where they can be healed. So that when your time comes there will be someone or many someones there to advise you, help you to find and apply the antidote and help to nurse you back to health. When one suffers we all will suffer and when one is honoured we all must rejoice.