Legacy Isles of the Caribbean

One sunny day on St. Kitts, while exploring the famous fortress on Brimstone Hill, I looked up to se a young Kittitian woman above me. Resting her elbows on a parapet of black volcanic stones, her dark face framed by blue sky, she called to a girlfriend below.

"Come up!" she cried.

The woman below laughed and shook her head.

"Better fly come down," she shouted back.

Better fly come down. The poetry in her syntax may not show on the page, but it was there in the lilt of her voice. On the little two-island Caribbean federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, I found myself as immersed in language as in tropical fragrances, as buffeted by words as by sea winds. Locals call St. Kitts "Sugar City" and refer to Nevis as "Queen City." The tree fern is named "damp and dewy" for the way it catches moisture. One small acacia is named "bread-and-cheese," a reference to its white seed and yellow fruit. A larger acacia is called "woman's-tongue" for the noisy way its seedpods rattle in the wind. A donkey is a "mountain canary," an ironic reference to its unlovely braying song. The dictionary here is all wordplay; the talk is full of fun.