We sit on the raft between the boats
where the men wash themselves and their clothes
in a lather of suds and shouting.
Scrubbing and dousing:
skin soap water skin,
white on brown, brown on white,
clothes pasted on the deck.
We are Boulés – a peripheral people.
the sweat buds on my skin,
blisters and rolls along my limbs.
Clothes and wood, I am only one.
Everything is wet under the dry sun.
gasping and bleeding sweat into the brown river,
licking blood from fingers that should have been kept
for fear of infection
in the teeming water.
out from the bank, cloudy with slops and soap,
into the racing current of the brown stream.
I no longer try to tell them
that the walls will fall
and the smoke will rise.
Rising even through the shouting
and the sounds of deaths
and the ends of lives.
Hoarse and twisting from the temples
and our choking streets,
screaming at the gods in heaven,
just to make them pause,
just to sting their eyes
who once watched over us.
I will raise the special keening
of a promise kept
and a curse fulfilled.
Through them all I know he hears me
and in marking me
knows it marks me still:
his unspeaking, blinding presence
in that silent cave
on that quiet hill.
Silent in his majesty
who is God of words
and the marksman’s kill,
in stillness watching me.
With his mouth he sealed my eyes
and I saw.
Shining as he kissed my throat
and I spoke.
Through his touch I felt him smile
like a boy:
easing his divinity
in touching my mortality,
an exchange of gifts.
Never did he take from me
what he’d changed.
Subtler to change the world,
not to heed.
Till I choked on bloodied words
and grew dumb,
left them whole inside of me.
Such elegance of cruelty
is what marks the gods.
Yet the choice was mine
and the gifts remain
and I will not trade.
The Traveller and the Sea
I met a traveller,
a long man with long strides,
who shared some time and coffee with me
and talked to me about the sea.
He told me he had found his voice in the ocean,
in the small, coloured whispers
of the small, coloured fishes
who live and die in the coral
and make no great journeys.
He told me that he knew of the memory of rivers,
of the places where crying
has swollen the groundwater,
so all who drink are reminded
of the taste of sorrows.
He told me that he knew of a sea of forgetfulness
where the water is sweet
on the white, desperate shore.
It rings with echoes of friendship
and the noise carries far.
And I thought
perhaps I haven’t travelled far enough
to have won the water’s stories for my own
or perhaps he is still journeying
and not yet come to solid ground.