African days, African nights
Everything is dusty red and succulent green.
The road is mostly empty,
of cars at least-
streams of Africans snake down the sides
In all forms of dress;
School pupils in uniforms traditional ladies in chitenjie businessmen in suits
Ragged staring children and baggy jeaned hip hop youths in woollen hats.
Hefting sacks of maize, school books, bags or babies.
Terracotta mud slashes tracks through green valleys
Burnt amber houses planted in lush jungle.
At first I feared
my walk to work-
a path cut through local huts
and village life;
to the safety of the big white house.
Clucking scattering chickens
Mangy dogs sniffing at rubbish
scruffy wide eyed offspring
playing in the red mud
beside fluttering rags that mark the walls of outhouses:
I saw only chaos.
It took a while for order to emerge
in my untrained eye.
Neat brick houses swept out daily
Goat pens and chicken coops
Nsema stirred on bright flames
Favours paid and then returned
Neighbours helped and rubbish burned.
I still don’t understand how this community works
but I understand that it is one.
And smile as I walk past the chattering women
to my empty house on the hill.
In time, they knew
they would tire
of smooth slippery play
rubbery dolphin-like frolics
rocking in salty pleasure
amongst the waves
erratically washing over them;
but not yet.
They met in a bar
Two lonely happy wanderers
in a brief beery oasis.
A glimpsed understanding
as blue eyes meet
over a friendly handshake.
Hours pass and the music gets louder
the lights lower
local dancers gyrate gracefully
and some mzungo thrash gamely in imitation.
They retire with Greens to a corner,
concrete benching softened by
piles of plump cushions.
They talk about this and that
while he calmly takes her hand.
Two ships on self-set routes
meeting gratefully in the African night.
Is it stretching this ocean-going metaphor to say that they
compared navigational data:
stories of storms weathered and possible dangers ahead,
along with suggested delights?
Both taking solace in stories shared-
the mutual friend lost on the road
(to a speeding car);
Other tragedies and comedies they know.
And so to bed
to the shuffling and readjusting
of bodies meeting for the first time
until a satisfactory alliance is established.
Later they escape the stifling tent-
plunge into the still, cool lake.
A swim out to the rising sun
pinky golden rays of dawn
fingering mountains on the eastern shore
they smile sleekly at each other.
Then sleeping naked on the grass
holding hands, still.
One secret weekend
sweet moments in the bay
lying in each other’s arms
then moving on-
she north and he south.
Sailing apart after one last kiss.
‘Seventeen killed in minibus head on collision’
complications in childbirth
crocodiles snakes and tsetse fly
Every week a funeral
A reminder for the whole village.
It’s not that I’ve become morbid-
just that death is a fact of life here,
in a way that it never was in Britain.
I want to live to a hundred
and have armfuls of children
travel until I am old and weary-
but I know that there are little girls
here, who will not live to be twenty.
“They’ll always want to know your football team and church-
just pick two names and stick with that- it keeps life easy”
‘They’ did ask
“Arsenal and church of Scotland”
I lied smoothly
Newest member of Livingstone’s tribe-
submitted even to a Sunday service
writhing under the worship of ancient lies.
A country where god is still almighty
bows under corruption chauvinism and poverty.
Cathy did you go to church this morning?
I don’t go to church.
I am not religious.
Then you are against God?
I am not against him I just don’t believe in him.
God is a figment of a collective imagination.
(I knew that when I was six years old)
Here I Am
I always read colonial novels
with doubtful enjoyment.
Never wanted to be
one of those writers who had lived in Africa-
Knew it stayed in your blood from then on
like dormant malarial invaders
tucked away in your liver
dancing through life with you;
or as double-drop acid,
subtly alters a perception for a lifetime.
I saw a vague outline of dry land and sadness
and dreamt instead of Asia and the Americas.
but here I am
blown over on a life led by chance
and job offers;
To find that Africa is indeed another drug
one of staggering highs and lows
that pounds your heart- stimulates- numbs and confuses
whirls you around and lets you down and refuses
ever to be pinned down, understood
Tattoed on my heart.