Inspired by Wifredo Lam’s The Jungle, 1943

An Afro-Cuban plea guards over heart
   & head, that old rugged cross-tree
      of the South in the tropical air of Cuba,

but it would take years in Madrid,
   then Matisse, & a daily dreaming
      of Paris before Wifredo Lam

painted himself in a floral kimono,
   echoes of war tangled in his brushes,
      before he could bring himself to half-see

those watchful polymorphic figures
   in gouache on Kraft paper glued
      to cloth canvas smooth as second skin.

He said, “When I am not asleep, I dream.”
   The land grew whole by brushstrokes,
      an uproar of growth pruned back

to vantage point, the first time I faced
   The Jungle, big as a double door
      to a secret realm. I close my eyes

to step into vegetable silence, living
   designs triangulated, into a kingdom
      of spirit totems in bamboo, sugarcane,

tobacco leaves, & double-headed limbo
   growing one with the other, caught
      in a love fever of three worlds, a path

to the other side, hidden from the sun,
   relying on conjured light in a blue-green
      season, pelting the ground with seeds.

Did the “W” in his name etch the first
   winged symbol as indigenous signs
      & masks rooted in black soil?

Breasts, buttocks, & terrestrial mouths
   laugh in the greenery—we onlookers
      see magic we cannot face in ourselves,

reasoned beyond our own mortality
   enriching the wet-green profusion
      wild within itself & what cries out,

seeped in ceremonial lamentation.
   Tall figures hold sharpened shears
      as if shaping footsteps out of foliage,

gazing into a future, these maroons
   masked by zodiacs in their leafy hideout,
      a rhythm of breathing architecture.

A slew of bluish incantations erupt
   in carved silence, unwoven trance,
      & these elongated, slantwise warriors

& seers, the other side, hidden from us
   in daylight, interwoven & multiplied,
      peer out of camouflaged revelation.

He drew questions out of shapes,
   rooting shadows to the roaming mind,
      & this makes me take another step.

Exiled, but not from his homeland,
   orishas tiptoed back into CoBrA’s
      inner sanctum. Vodun & Santeria

followed him to Marseille, still
   orangery-red touches of Caribbean
      sunlight on the skin of his figures.

Though once in a cabaret on La Rue Vavin
   he heard “I put a spell on you,”
      & a smile broke across his face.