‘You are not a country, Africa. You are a concept…
You are not a concept, Africa. You are a glimpse of the infinite.’
                                 Ali Mazrui

 

You were Africa. But you wanted it all ways.
For a while you were Mami Wata, spitting rainbow serpent,
Compelling me to swallow voodoo as spirit, as balance,
To welcome it as you had, as a route to passion,
To trust that all you ever wanted to do was to honour
God, your parents and the truth that possessed you.

You were Africa and across our three years of grey magic
Skulked a voudounsi, diviner: whispering what to do,
Telling you when to eat and when to wear the red dress,
When to laugh, when to fuck, when to come, when to go.

You were evolution. But you wanted it all ways.
So you hitched down that disinterested road with chimps
And orang-utans and gibbons and gorillas, bones twisting,
Brain ebbing and flowing, cells adding and subtracting,
Soul leaping from insect to reptile to bird to mammal,
Thumb desperate to oppose, cunning eager to deepen.

You were evolution and you loped with the ostrich,
Smiled with the clownfish, gripped with the lobster,
Dragged us all across weary rocks like the walrus,
Roamed the ancient spaces between us like a wolf.

You were masquerade. But you wanted it all ways.
You straddled the cleft between life and death,
Whistled to summon and dismiss me, spoke words
Like mine but deeper and more shadowed,
Placed organs in jars and amulets in cold hands,
Wielded a money box shaped like your own coffin.

You were masquerade and feast and dance,
The Midnight Robber mocking with trance and sleep,
The Bookman writing down names for the Devil:
You were performer and audience, dusk and night.

You were music. But you wanted it all ways.
You teased the viola d’amore and the harp,
The baryton and the lute and the drum,
You played the salesman who got rich on the bass
Of America and forced the trebles of this place
Back down into the never-really-existed.

You were music and you were five tight strings
Singing out pure and melodic; you were silver, gold
And four more victims excited into sound by others.
You were resonance and dissonance and sympathy.

You were immortal. But you wanted it all ways.
Like the huia bird and the dodo, like the great auk
And the passenger pigeon and the kakapo,
You’re extinct now and I want so, so much
To break this glass and grab the rebab esh-sha’er,
Hold the poet’s fiddle and play it badly for you.

You were immortal but we can no longer marvel
At the beautiful sax or laugh at the tiny flute
I once owned or wonder how they’d sound together.
You were immortal, love. But you wanted it all ways.

 

 

(From 'Put Your Lips Together')