Sunday, 8 March 2009


This is something a bit different – akin to stream of consciousness.

I am posting this piece to help fill the gap before I get to finish off Paternity properly for you.

It’s unashamedly inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the astonishing Colombian short story writer.

Warning – it’s not a fun yarn!

After 1994 when a military coup ushered in an era of soaring poverty within their native land, Haitians in their thousands attempted to flee the misery, many in small boats making illegally for America They did so with the aid of their faith, Voodoo, a national religious folk cult characterised by a mixture of Roman Catholic ritual elements which date from the period of French colonisation, and the theology and magic of Africa.

The Zombie

The hold is dark and dank and it is filled with eyes and I am twenty-five years old and refuse to live any longer working working in the wretched poverty of Haiti my Caribbean homeland, working so long and so hard and yet still in a boarding house room with thirteen others and little food between us all, and now I am in this boat called ‘Belief in God’ with so many eyes, but on the way to something different and better in the USA even though death may come before we make it however I am prepared for that and I am prepared to face this sour taste and swollen tongue and the parched lips of thirst, and the stench and the crush of these bodies and the stomach pain from hunger and the stiffness because I can’t stretch out my limbs, and the cursing and the bucket with the faeces and the vomit, and the groans and the retching and the yells, followed on other days by the gentle sharing talk of hopes and dreams and of times past, and the stars glimpsed through the trapdoor, open at last, when you know it is all worth while for a change from everything that has gone before, but then the returning doubts that crash in with the roaring of the wind, and the screeching of the timbers, the flapping canvas and the bucking and lurching as this frail little boat groans and screams its way up mountainous waves and into never ending chasms of dark green water when all forty of us would slide as one across the hold, a tangled mass of pain and sweat and cursing only to be tossed with force in the opposite direction to confront other gnarled timbers and tumbled limbs, then the blessed relief when the boat is quiet again and they give you just two mouthfuls of water that taste better than any feast, when you clutch your Good Book closer, thanking Him for Deliverance, while those around finger little flags and chant against the sound of a strangled squawk when the captain on deck slaughters a rooster as sacrifice to our safety, and he scatters perfume among us, a scent that cuts the stench but briefly, and the sun beats down, hotter every hour and the hold is an airless furnace and we sink into ourselves: vessels of fear that takes over from our fading memories and hopes, and a drum beats above, beating … beating … and the naked bodies writhe and the sweating limbs are snakes slithering and ensnaring, and I wonder for my reality, before sinking even further into myself, the drum beating is the beating of my being and the black walls of the hold closer now, and I do not wish to move, even when the opportunity comes, and I cannot move, and the little voodoo flags and the charms drift through the thick black air, and the rooster crows, and the priest captain chants to Agwe, the spirit of the sea, and Christ is on his cross, flesh blooded from the tearing of thorns, and I am escaped from my misery.

© June Saville. Not to be reproduced without express permission of the author.

I'd love to know your feelings about this little piece. Did it hit any nerves? Any memories materialise? Did you hate it? Did you enjoy it?


  1. I found it heartwrenching. Descriptions so real you can smell it, hear it, taste it and feel it.
    Because of all of this, I really liked it.

  2. Thank you RETIRED ONE
    I am so pleased about your reaction - it seems that I have been able to bring the terrible situation into reality for you.
    Now - do something happy for the rest of the day ...

  3. Yes, June, I felt it as well. I could smell the filthy, hot, starving bodies! The South here has a lot of believers in Voodoo. That lady in the movie, Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil practiced Voodoo and it has always been interesting to me. I could also feel the hope and dreams and determination of this young person.

  4. Thanks once again JUDY
    Yes I suppose that your proximity to South America and the migration over the years is the reason for your Voodoo devotees. I came across an article about it and began doing research some time ago. I learned of the move to the north and how the little boats were used - I ended up wanting to capture in words what I had found.
    Thus 'The Zombie'.

  5. This is a picure not any kind of writing in words that touches every human soul some of them come back to every country.

  6. Stirred me, June!. The story tugs at your heart-strings which stories are meant to do. And I love your technique, almost like Virginia Woolf, only less esoteric, more lucid Just GREAT!

  7. But what happened to Pip's 'paternity?' Don't keep us in suspense. I keep going back to it to see...

  8. Really outstanding June and you definitely win the award for the longest sentence ever written. The presentation in that way is so perfect for the subject and adds to the emotion. You are so clever and so talented.

  9. June – you capture so very well the claustrophobic and unbearable situation/scene in this story. This section - “...beating … beating … and the naked bodies writhe and the sweating limbs are snakes slithering and ensnaring...” reminded me a lot of the Brathwaithe poem, Limbo (a poem we study closely in secondary schools in the UK). Do you know it?

  10. Yes PRADIP
    I do think there are more unfortunate people just like our hero here. Sadly.

    I am so sorry that Pip has not been around. I think of her longingly every day and when my head space is right she will be yours.
    The story of the Zombie was written years ago, and I thought I'd see what people felt about it, as a little 'fill in'. I'm pleased it seems to have struck a chord with people.

  12. VIKKI my clever little artist you.
    Also - you Wench!
    I'm pleased that The Zombie was okay by you. I did hesitate to post it ...
    But I see I have an audience who will try anything.

  13. Hi CATHM
    No I didn't know the Braithwaite poem but I looked it up. Wonderful. I agree that there are echoes of slavery, and I inserted some rhythm into my story, so I suppose that's a bit like the chant of 'Limbo'.
    As I suggested before 'Limbo', I was inspired after I read a short story called 'The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It's a sea poem and it is one very long sentence, and maybe there's a flavour of a similar culture, but apart from that I think my piece is unique to me.
    By the way you may enjoy this link - it's a gifted teacher discussing 'Limbo'. Amazing.

  14. You'll have my head so swollen SMITA. Dickens and now Virginia Woolf!!
    I'm pleased the little boat and its passengers have become so real for you.

  15. You have more than both the authors- an erudite scholar/ writer within you- with the perfect nuances of language I so love.
    being a Professor of English, & a poet, I realise how important expression is as a serious genre of English Lierature. You have captured the 'stream of consciousness' technique, without turning into a manic-depressive like Virginia Woolf, or even Kafka- 2 of my favourite authors

  16. Most of what you write strikes a chord with people, for you hae the art of reaching out to a wider readership!

    And also an appeal for the masses, as they begin to identify with your characters, which is every writer's dream!

  17. O June ! This piece had me right there, the sites and smells, the agonizing hardship. I loved the flow, never stopping for us to catch a breath. Superb ! Cheryl

  18. Almost seasick~ not just with the motion, but also the smells for fearful trapped humanity.

  19. MEGGIE
    Yes, the hold would have been pretty ripe ... I reckon you got the picture.
    Thanks for coming.

  20. Hi June,
    Superb. I couldn't even pause for breath until I'd read the entire piece. Lovely descriptions that I felt like I was on that boat. I've heard lots of sad stories having gone to college in Florida where many boats arrive ... well, the few lucky ones I should say. I've also visited a fort in Ghana from where the slave boats transported folks across the seas to a new world - a very painful and tearful experience as I listened to stories of the those bygone years. I enjoyed that very much.

    - LJ

  21. Hi Lilly Jones
    Not so bygone. You may like to look at my post of April 17 on 70 Plus and Still Kicking - the story of boat people trying to find a new home in Australia, with disastrous accidental consequences.

    Thank you for the feedback on The Zombie. It was pretty experimental and I wondered if it would turn people off.



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Cheers June