I made love to you, & it loomed there. We sat on the small veranda of the cottage, & listened hours to the sea talk. I didn’t have to look up to see if it was still there. For days, it followed us along polluted beaches where the boys herded cows & the girls danced for the boys, to the moneychanger, & then to the marketplace. It went away when the ghost of my mother found me sitting beneath a palm, but it was in the van with us on a road trip to the country as we zoomed past thatch houses. It was definitely there when a few dollars exchanged hands & we were hurried through customs, past the guards. I was standing in the airport in Amsterdam, sipping a glass of red wine, half lost in Van Gogh’s swarm of colors, & it was there, brooding in a corner. I walked into the public toilet, thinking of W.E.B. buried in a mausoleum, & all his books & papers going to dust, & there it was, in that private moment, the same image: obscene because it was built to endure time, stronger than their houses & altars. The seeds of melon. The seeds of okra in trade winds headed to a new world. I walked back into the throng of strangers, but it followed me. I could see the path slaves traveled, & I knew when they first saw it all their high gods knelt on the ground. Why did I taste salt water in my mouth? We stood in line for another plane, & when the plane rose over the city I knew it was there, crossing the Atlantic. Not a feeling, but a longing. I was in Accra again, gazing up at the vaulted cathedral ceiling of the compound. I could see the ships at dusk rising out of the lull of “Amazing Grace,” cresting the waves. The governor stood on his balcony, holding a sword, pointing to a woman in the courtyard, saying, That one. Bring me that tall, ample wench. Enslaved hands dragged her to the center, then they threw buckets of water on her, but she tried to fight. They penned her to the ground. She was crying. They prodded her up the stairs. One step, & then another. Oh, yeah, she still had some fight in her, but the governor’s power was absolute. He said, There’s a tyranny of language in my fluted bones. There’s a poetry on every page of the good book. There’s God’s work to be done in a forsaken land. There’s a whole tribe in this one, but I’ll break them before they’re in the womb, before they’re conceived, before they’re even thought of. Come, up here, don’t be afraid, up here to the governor’s quarters, up here where laws are made. I haven’t delivered the head of Pompey or John the Baptist on a big silver tray, but I own your past, present, & future. You’re special. You’re not like the others. Yes, I’ll break you with fists & cat-o’-nine. I’ll thoroughly break you, head to feet, but sister I’ll break you most dearly with sweet words.
In barlight alchemized: gold pate, the bellmouth tenor, liquor trapped in a glass. The e-flat clarinet chases time, strings shudder, remembering the hundred tongues. Here comes old snakeshine, scrolls stored in the well, here comes the sobbing chazzan. O my lucky uncle, you’ve escaped the Czar’s army. Thunder is sweet. Here comes the boink, boink bossa nova slant of light. Snow-dollars dissolve on a satin tongue. The river swells green, concrete trembles, and we sweat, leaning toward mikes and wires as the last tune burns down to embers. Ash- whispers. We were born before we were born.
I am given a pony for my birthday, but it is the wrong kind of pony. It is the kind of pony that won’t listen. It is testy. When I ask it to go left, it goes right. When I ask it to run, it sleeps on its side in the tall grass. So when I ask it to jump us over the river into the field I have never before been, I have every reason to believe it will fail, that we will be swept down the river to our deaths. It is a fate for which I am prepared. The blame of our death will rest with the testy pony, and with that, I will be remembered with reverence, and the pony will be remembered with great anger. But with me on its back, the testy pony rears and approaches the river with unfettered bravery. Its leap is glorious. It clears the river with ease, not even getting its pony hooves wet. And then there we are on the other side of the river, the sun going down, the pony circling, looking for something to eat in the dirt. Real trust is to do so in the face of clear doubt, and to trust is to love. This is my failure, and for that I cannot be forgiven.