Learning Kriol


The small frank African man spoke

each slow syllable, enunciated, exaggerated;

his voice wrapping uncomfortably around

the King James core, the very European idea

of mankind’s cosmic debt and quest

for redemption:

––By grace are ‘ee saft true fate . . .


Snickering at the verbal contradictions

we exposed our prejudice, our failure 

to see the absence of error, failure

to hear without the prism of our subjective

imposition of meaning on his words;

exposed our arrogance, judged him wanting, failing, wrong.


But what of his ernest self-negation

Pouring himself into the task of social replication;

Taking on the faith, the book, the words

Clothes, arguments, habits, rituals

Of a foreign, colonial life, a foreign god?


Betrayed at last, always and forever

by his immutable skin, and voice.

Never to erase the mark of skin,

never to efface nature’s voice,

never to attain the nuanced purity,

never to look into the eyes of equality.


The failure of our grace sealing his fate, and ours.


About This:

In the 1960’s, Father was a missionary in Belize, where Kriol is the local patois. Dad mentored and evangelized with a Belizean man, Frank Small. This poem explores the essential inequality of their relationship, typical of the colonial presumptions underlying, and ultimately dooming, it.

 © Philip Knight 2018