Dem tell me
Dem tell me
Wha dem want to tell me
Rhythmic in its repetition. The short lines call attention immediately to “Dem” in an accusatory tone.
Bandage up me eye with me own history
Blind me to me own identity
The accusatory tone gets specific and more intense with the longer rhythmic lines. The speaker accuses “Dem” of telling him things that caused him to be blind to his own history, his own sense of self. “Bandage up me eye with me own history” suggests insult to injury in the sense that the accused caused the blindness, then used the listener’s “own history” to cover up the blind eye. In all, the accusation is of a deliberate, cruel attempt to mislead.
Dem tell me bout 1066 and all dat
dem tell me bout Dick Whittington and he cat
But Toussaint L’Ouverture
no dem never tell me bout dat
The speaker cites British history alongside British folktale or fairy tale possibly in an attempt to say (for him) one was not distinguishable from the other. And the emphatic, double negatives—“no” and “never”—in the last line change the sing-song rhythm of the two previous lines.
and first Black
Toussaint de thorn
to the French
Toussaint de beacon
of de Haitian Revolution
The story of Toussaint sounds like a chant almost. And the chant suggests more than one voice—it is oratory, and plural.
Dem tell me bout de man who discover de balloon
and de cow who jump over de moon
Dem tell me bout de dish run away with de spoon
but dem never tell me bout Nanny de maroon
Once again the seemingly derogatory pairing of history and nursery rhyme / fairy tale.
of mountain dream
to freedom river
Like the lines telling Toussaint’s story, these lines have a plural, oratory sound. But the story is told in fragments, and ends with the un-rhythmic line “to freedom river.” The story is not linear and complete (in reference to the way it sounds) like the story of Toussaint told above. This adds an additional quality to the storyteller. It also befits the story of a “see-far” woman, a visionary woman? The fragmentation creates a mystery, a puzzle, and asks you the listener to see in another dimension, and to recognize an unconventional heroine—not a fairy tale, but a more believable tale of a woman with supernatural powers perhaps. This may suggest a specific addressee as well.
Dem tell me bout Lord Nelson and
but dem never tell me bout Shaka de great Zulu
Dem tell me bout
but what happen to de Caribs and the Arawaks too
The speaker, in a possible effort to give the accusation wider appeal, points out the exclusion of an integral part of the people of much of the Caribbean and the Americas from the historical narrative he was told.
Dem tell me bout Florence Nightingale and she lamp
and how Robin Hood used to camp
Dem tell me bout ole King Cole was a merry ole soul
but dem never tell me bout Mary Seacole
she travel far
to the Crimean War
she volunteer to go
and even when de British said no
she still brave the Russian snow
a healing star
among the wounded
a yellow sunrise
to the dying
The hard-hitting (sounding) “go,” “no,” and “snow,” grab the reader’s attention to the speaker’s crescendo moment in the poem. It is a noticeably loud moment particularly because the woman’s defiance is immediately followed by the speaker’s concluding defiance.
Dem tell me
Dem tell me wha dem want to tell me
But now I checking out me own history
I carving out me identity
And then the resolution. The speaker tells us the reason for the address—that he has reclaimed his power, that he can see for himself now. The poem ends on a triumphant note in that sense. The triumph is anti-climactic of course (although complete in a poetic sense) since we are long aware before the end that he has checked out his own history.
[I'll post my conclusions tomorrow]
Update: conclusions here