Literary Excerpts

Swept Up By a Waterfall Four Times Taller Than Niagara, Hidden in the Amazon

by Arisa White

Photo by Emotionary App / Unsplash

Oakland-based poet Arisa White's new, slender memoir, Who's Your Daddy (Augury Books, March 2021), recalls fragments of imagery, memory, and place as the author embarks on a journey to Guyana to reunite with her father. Readers are transported via vivid descriptions of landscape, music, culture, and proverbs. In the excerpt below, White visits one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world, Kaieteur Falls, buried deep in the Guyana region of the Amazon Rainforest.

It’s our last full day in Guyana and we wake at 5 a.m. to go to Kaieteur Falls. Kaieteur is the longest single-drop waterfall in the world, with a total distance from top to bottom of 822 feet. We fly in a nine-passenger airplane that was built in the 1970s. There are ashtrays for us to deposit our butts, and at one point, the aircraft hits turbulence and drops half a mile in altitude. I grab Mondayway’s hand in preparation for our death. The world we fly over is rainforest-occupied, rivers, and then it opens up into a gorge and mist abounds.

We land and the air is so fresh it’s like drinking water. We take a moderate hike to the top of the falls, and while on the trail, our guide tells us to stop, turn to our right, and about eight feet away is a cock-of-the-rock. A rare bright orange bird with a crescent-shaped hairstyle. Our guide tells us we are lucky, because people come here from all over the world to see it and go home disappointed.

I’m in awe. Before I knew the legend, there was the impulse to let the water take me down. To fall with it, to give into its seductive forceful tresses. This is what the Patamona Amerindian chief named Kai did. Sacrificed himself to the Great Spirit Makonaima to save his tribe from the Caribs. He took his canoe and paddled over the point where the Potaro River plunges into the gorge below. “Teur” means “falls” in the local dialect. It’s believed Kai remains living in a cave behind the drop and when mist surrounds the falls, Kai is cooking. Possibly a meal, I wonder, to welcome his daughter home.

I get myself as close to the cliff ’s edge as I can muster, to see the depth, to feel the pull of earth opening up. I run my hands in river water, pick up stones of that hard red-black rock we stand on. Lay prone on it, press my breasts belly hips thighs, turn my head to the side and listen. The rock is warm and it vibrates. Its touch resounds, shifts my molecules to resemble its molecules and I’m unlocked and revived by a wild sacrificial grand love.

Kaieteur Falls. Photo by Arisa White.


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Who's Your Daddy, by Arisa White


This excerpt was printed with permission from the author.