Keep your courage up
Walk down the street
When the leper comes up to you
Say “I am a Moslem”
And give him a franc.
Soon he will be carted away
By the Department of l’Encombrement Humain.
“Go to the Island of the Slaves
On Sunday,” said the Black cultural attaché, who speeded me
Down hallways through consular doorways
Then suddenly back out onto the street.
At five o’clock everything closes
Or did he say one o’clock or two or three or four o’clock?
In any case, everything is closed.
But I find someone to talk to in a building (mauve)
Past the horse (white).
A young man, tall (high, rather)
And skilled at walking fast
And with his head on high comes past
At an amazing angle and an amazing rate.
“Don’t go to the bars,” Jean-Marc said, “and try
To talk to the girls.” This one is OFF LIMITS. This one is
OFF LIMITS. I am ON LIMITS with my arms. Why that man
Stuck with a tooth stick? “The Lebanese
Men go there, with their sisters
They start to fight if you talk to or touch one.”
“The Russians in Dakar Harbor are not allowed
To get off their ship for fear that they will
Be seduced by capitalism,” he said. “It’s the truth!”
In Dakar you are still pretty close to Europe
But three miles out of town you are burning in a pink lake
Unless you get out of it fast with your modicum of salt.
These modicums grown additive on the lakebanks
Show white and fair to a far-off who views them but
Up near, they stink. And the salt lake burns you. And, “Dad,
I am leaving,” you do not say if you are a member of this tribe,
This special tribe of nomads who dredge for salt.
On the boat to Gorée, how cruel
These four Lebanese are, led by this one
Young man who keeps calling to and then laughing at
A Mongoloid (of maybe twenty-five or thirty)—
Laughing at his clumsy gait and at his efforts to please
Them in an absurd and helpless way.
That man on this boat
Looks like Mayakowsky, black—his face
Showing his character and his art,
His violent, virile, and touchingly
Avant-garde, Futurist, lyric poetic art.
Seeds on my head! Sitting
Under a baobab tree. Do baobabs have seeds?
Everything is wrecked—misery, stoniness, and the color
Of sickness, or dying, is on it all.
Tu as le choc, you have
Ze shock! said Jean-Marc
Aiverybuddy get whan comb to Africa. It goes away.
But it took more than two days going away.
For these two days I hate life, Africa, everything.
Next day, a little better. Three
Weeks later, I am in an enchantment—Kenya!
Madagascar! the sun shock under the place names
Like skin under clothes.
The man sweeping the building
After dark is of a higher caste
Than the one who directs the company
And rules it from the topmost floor.
To his air-conditioned office
Suite, comes Eng-al-Baram
And the president bows down.
The slaves were brought in this way
And taken out this way.
Here is where they stood
Waiting for the boat
To take them to America
In chains, where they would create
The characters of Darky and Mammy, good slave, bad slave,
Hanged man, mulatto, quadroon, and then would change
To “underprivileged citizens,” preachers, doctors—
Violent transformations, while
Africa stayed here all along,
Visited by rainfall and heatspells,
With a different kind of energy and a different kind of change.
The partition of Africa takes place
In eighteenth-and nineteenth-century
Europe, on conference tables. Here is the place
Where one Oolof will wear a beret, and the other a bush hat,
Where one will drink wine, and the other feel lost without his tea.
In Dakar at night
Leopold Sédar Senghor is sitting and thinking
Just as Wallace Stevens might have wanted him to—
But he finds he is not thinking right.
He eats some moospasla and goes to sleep.
Oh the part that’s by the ocean that’s
Fine, says Jean-Marc. The part that you see.
But in the rest of the country it’s horrible—
There’s no water, dried out, death to the economy!
I am like a shark at the reef
Said King Behanzu, upon hearing
That the French were debarking at Catarou.
And he delayed them but he could not stay them.
Of King Behanzu’s defense there remains a statue
Of King Behanzu as a shark—“At the Reef.”
December 20, 1984