I couldn’t have imagined her. Her voice echoed a distant past from an island far away- wind rustling palms over fields of burning sugar. Mauritian born, Kama La Mackerel, took center stage at Glad Day Book Shop’s Festival of Writers- The Naked Heart 2017- and I’ve been speechless since.
The French-Creole lilt in her voice contrasted her steely prose, mining a relationship with her father who had built the family house, by hand, over the span of twenty years on an island where I had only known abundance. She, a mix of Africa and India, stood in front of me, a stranger. Yet, when I closed my eyes her voice conjured young women, cousins, who made fun of my Canadian accent, sharing gateaux patates while walking the sandy beaches of Flic en Flac.
The walls Kama spoke of, the ones between her and her father were familiar. She described his new interest in the ingredients list on a salt container, longing for him to look up, longing for acceptance. Kama is trans, which today seems far less shocking than when I was a boy. Then, this realm was for white folks living in a parallel world- on TV. This fiction wasn’t written in the language of my parents. Ours was a narrow life that defined man and woman, duty and profession and as I look back- race- on a speck of vacationland no larger than the GTA.
As I watched Kama’s arms in passionate gesture, she etched a door and as she stepped forward, it opened. Of course I noticed her dress first. It was one I had drawn so many times. I could recite the details by heart: pleated neckline- fitted at the waist- above the knee- made of double knit. This knit or Ponte Di Roma was ground breaking when it emerged in the sixties. Used by the French avant-garde designer, André Courrèges, it quickly made its way to luxury retailers and now is as ubiquitous as a mochaccino. As I held pen to paper, scribbling down a key line from her epic poem, ‘Building Walls’, I imagined drawing the dress again. I could feel the two layers of simple knit, pliable in my hands, recalling that Ponte Di Roma translates as bridges of Rome– the looping structure of needlework mirroring these ancient monuments. And it was on a bridge forged by Kama, forged by Glad Day, that I walked over to meet the person behind a wall built by my forefathers.
“I could smell sugar in the air,” I said, stumbling between rows of chairs to greet her, “my mother is Mauritian. Qui manière? ” I explained that my creole had dwindled from childhood.
“I’m so glad you were here, it means so much more when a Mauritian is in the audience,” she beamed, pushing a stack of ebony locks to one shoulder, extending her hand to me. “Are you a writer?” I paused, imagining that one day we would sit across from each other; Chicken pima confit and satchini pomme d’amour filling my kitchen with familiar scents from a shared time and place.
*I was going to wait until I could reach out to Kama before I posted this but yesterday I heard that she had lost all her documents on a trip and is making a very difficult journey back to Montreal. Details Here. I encourage you to meet the artist and activist, Kama La Mackerel and hope that this post is an incantation for her speedy return.
*Thanks to Glad Day Book Shop for continuing to forge ahead with meaningful programming, I learned a ton!
Diana Ross in Courrèges