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Kei  Miller

The Lacewood Whip

Kei Miller

The Lacewood Whip by Kei  Miller Click image for a larger view

Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
Accession number: 1931.22.1

To consider the whip, without the obvious haunt of history, to wipe the blood from its tip, to resist
what some might say is the histrionic – the unnecessary flinch, the surprise of memory like
something cold in your blood, to hold inside that feeling or at least pretend your spasm
was nothing, just a fly, or just the nervous behaviour of your body, which in any case, it is,
to observe the item as simply whip – the crafting of a single branch into handle and braided strips –
to observe the natural lace sprouting from its handle like the pose of some Elizabethan nobleman,
to not let that thought lead you wondering down from the mantle mounted portrait,
unguided, into the 17th century, Spain relinquishes your island to the English in the way
she relinquished ruffles to the virgin Queen Elizabeth – to realize this is dangerous thinking.
Return to the whip, its lace that can be better extracted by pulling apart layers of bark,
a process made easier by boiling, not only is the lace more pliable but it expands,
you can pull apart entire tablecloths to lay down in stately dining rooms – do not think
long about the stately dining rooms, the women who had to whistle while they collected
dishes from the kitchen, their whistling being proof they were not stealing massa’s food,
stealing a taste of their own labour – the whistling which was a melody, a spiritual, the evidence of
things not yet seen. My people sing: Jubilee, Jubilee – Queen Victoria set we free!
True story: a dress made of Jamaican lacewood was given to Queen Victoria, the feel of it
soft against her skin. Consider that – the lacewood soft against the skin, do not consider the irony.
Do not consider the women or the songs that they whistled - sometimes so sweet
they would forget themselves, would drop the tray of food just so, the sound of that crash
rattling all the way through history. Do not consider the consequences – the boiled wood
the boiled slaves, the idea that all stubborn and hardened things could be boiled,
that service and obedience could be extracted like lace. Do not think of the Jab Jab,
of Jab Molasse - the ghost of the boiled slave returned like steam. You have played Jab Molasse
the haunt of history chipping through the streets of Port of Spain. To learn to play that mas
is to learn the weight of a whip, and how to hold it, how to slice the air above your head
in a curling hiss. And how to accept, on your own skin, the occasional lash. It is to know
the precise use of Aloe Vera – we call it Sinkle Bible – it is to know the scripture of plants,
how to balm the bruised body each night. The memory of your whipped body
is not where you wanted this thought to end – but what else is at the end
of whips if not our bodies. You wanted to consider a whip without its context - .
to hear the news that 21 MPs have been robbed of their whips, which is to say,
stripped of their power, you want to hear this without flinching – you want to see
no connection, the long hiss above your hear that curls between the present and the past,
like something charged. A memory you have no right to. You want only to consider
the lacewood whip, without the haunt of history.