Fill me with words
Before Livingston, before the march
on ancient waterway of tongues, they waited,
griots listening to swish-swish of winds,
everything here was named,
Agadez, edge of the Sahara, water
touching lip of modern-day Brass.
In the dizziness of time, they heard it,
the bleating of old goats, piti-pata of water,
its origin twin, bird shit dropping on rocks.
Cave, shapeshifter in night’s arm,
waited for its echo to shape ears.
They heard it, Ògún wailing
in the black of speaking
and who was the first to see,
to say Asé, to say the lush land
is waking up. From its breath, life
went into tongues, into rituals
of sounds and before white men
on Lisbon’s street had sight,
before they knew the way of ships,
the griots in darkness drew
on cave walls this history of language.
I speak because a land slept
into ancestral chants, because a river
runs underneath my tongue, waiting
to blow smithereens
to whatever savage may call me savage.
In Bobo, the roads
led to another country.
The Tuareg who fell
in desert love with an aid worker
was leaving for Toulouse.
His clothes sang of sand.
By the window, he read
a book in French. His shirt
reads, I have betrayed the desert
since salt left the shores
of Morocco, since camels rode
the Sahara, stealing men.
At dusk he closed his book,
we were left with the elegy
of places, rivers, silent cry
of mothers, holy hour of dua.
Outside Bobo, miles away
from Bamako, our bus, Noor,
broke down. The Tuareg invited
me–and a Chadian traveling
to Dakar–to the quorum
of tea drinkers. We walked
into a field, sat beside a fire,
while he boiled tea. In the sky,
our eyes. The Tuareg said,
sing, for this is what we are leaving,
for without the desert I am dead
but alive in love.
O rivers of my birth,
what sorrow have you flowed the waters into?
There was something in the water,
from the rafts of gazebos–windchimes
offered their songs
……to the moon sheening on water.
The sea so full of life, so full
of water spirits, so full of everything
…………we hoped for
was awake with all the stories,
an old quilt
ready to sing of every thread woven
into it, ready to sing
of a family so ordinary,
the father, a fisherman,
could at this moment still be fishing at sea
with only the moon, a lantern for guidance,
as his body relearns the path to peace.
……What is the origin of anguish?
knows the secret of places.
Once, it was everywhere. Once, the sea sang its way
through the earth, a griot with its eternal life.
The griot tells me
of the fisherman still on a boat.
Across time and distance, across years and history,
alone in the dark, the fisherman sings a lullaby
as his wife stands on crossroads.
……………………for a son running through exile.
The sea says, for you this is the beginning of anguish.