Cape Coast Castle
I made love to you, & it loomed there. We sat on the small veranda of the cottage, & listened hours to the sea talk. I didn't have to look up to see if it was still there. For days, it followed us along polluted beaches where the boys herded cows & the girls danced for the boys, to the moneychanger, & then to the marketplace. It went away when the ghost of my mother found me sitting beneath a palm, but it was in the van with us on a road trip to the country as we zoomed past thatch houses. It was definitely there when a few dollars exchanged hands & we were hurried through customs, past the guards. I was standing in the airport in Amsterdam, sipping a glass of red wine, half lost in Van Gogh's swarm of colors, & it was there, brooding in a corner. I walked into the public toilet, thinking of W.E.B. buried in a mausoleum, & all his books & papers going to dust, & there it was, in that private moment, the same image: obscene because it was built to endure time, stronger than their houses & altars. The seeds of melon. The seeds of okra in trade winds headed to a new world. I walked back into the throng of strangers, but it followed me. I could see the path slaves traveled, & I knew when they first saw it all their high gods knelt on the ground. Why did I taste salt water in my mouth? We stood in line for another plane, & when the plane rose over the city I knew it was there, crossing the Atlantic. Not a feeling, but a longing. I was in Accra again, gazing up at the vaulted cathedral ceiling of the compound. I could see the ships at dusk rising out of the lull of "Amazing Grace," cresting the waves. The governor stood on his balcony, holding a sword, pointing to a woman in the courtyard, saying, That one. Bring me that tall, ample wench. Enslaved hands dragged her to the center, then they threw buckets of water on her, but she tried to fight. They penned her to the ground. She was crying. They prodded her up the stairs. One step, & then another. Oh, yeah, she still had some fight in her, but the governor's power was absolute. He said, There's a tyranny of language in my fluted bones. There's a poetry on every page of the good book. There's God's work to be done in a forsaken land. There's a whole tribe in this one, but I'll break them before they're in the womb, before they're conceived, before they're even thought of. Come, up here, don't be afraid, up here to the governor's quarters, up here where laws are made. I haven't delivered the head of Pompey or John the Baptist on a big silver tray, but I own your past, present, & future. You're special. You're not like the others. Yes, I'll break you with fists & cat-o'-nine. I'll thoroughly break you, head to feet, but sister I'll break you most dearly with sweet words.
From So Much Things To Say: 100 Calabash Poets, edited by Kwame Dawes and Colin Channer. Copyright © 2010 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Used with permisson of Calabash International Literary Trust and the author.