“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.

While Your Heart Breaks

While Your Heart Breaks

While your heart breaks
I must take
this shovel
and keep digging.
While that tear drops
I must sit atop
my mound of clay
chip away at the decay of immorality
left by those who blunder in the name of crusades.
While you are happy
that your world is not so unhappy
I will carve my joy from dirt.
While you pray
for us to find our way
we will dig a path way trench.
While you feel blessed
to come from the west
I dig my feet
on the mountain side
to find my peace
when I face that test.
While you feel priviledged
know that I will
still survive.