Slave Trades & An Artist's Notebook
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Delirium (final section of Slave Trades)

One lot: one tooth only
One lot: two teeth
One lot: three teeth
One lot: four teeth
One lot: two teeth

11 518,8
11 633,11

(A. Rimbaud, Marseilles, 1891)

* * *

Woke up with a start
they were there the madmen of the flesh were there!

Times of trouble:

- eject all the wicked and ungodly
- cover my face that I may not see the light,
until the light comes to restore the earth that the angels have
- biters, reprobates, the children of fornication perish by mutual

But you, child, were made spiritual, child, possessing life which
is eternal

- do not play with the spirits of the wicked, their dark clouds, do not oppress, corrupt, do not fail!

The stones were wonderful and brilliant, a beautiful splendid surface they cherished, the tree of unceasing smell was cut into a chair an altar a spoon, good work, duly weighed by the Lord of spirits

- those who possess the earth shall cease to be powerful and
break in pieces the teeth of sinners
darkness their habitation and worms their bed
in the burning valley swimming at the fluid mass of fire
- the moon has thirty days less than the sun and stars

- the race that has offended you shall perish

* * *

Next time you sprinkle the oxen's, the goat's
blood by the gaping hole and the spirits of the dead
come howling to feast on your earthly offer
and you realise that so they will hover and so they
will howl until the next libation
an eternal hovering and suspension
you will realise that you need to invent heaven
and grow the trees of paradise, again.

God made the peasant in his own image
and bid him: work
to eternally shape the eternal cycle of rebirth and growth
the peasant's estate is God's estate

Being is one and the one is process,
constant ever-generating
revolutions, return
revolution, rebirth
Being is not two - it is one soul,
one body . . . being is soul congealed
being is soul encased, embodied
being has been, will be always
beautiful motion

* * *

We salute you, Negus
Christ's apostle

How good the powder smelt, how restless the bullets
dispersing and winnowing the Egyptians like chaff
dagger of God,
Scarf for the poor
Shamma of my winters
lead us to war

* * *

Men lose their heads
in the forests
on the edge of a bed
in the face of our fragrant powers

* * *

Beat the drum
bring out the rainmakers
the famine must be ended

The horsemen ate their horses
the peasants ate their donkeys
It is rumoured that men are eating men
a Wollo woman ate her child
and everywhere starved lions, leopards
hyenas pretend to feast on skeletons

* * *

Wring your hands at the doorstep
avoid to stare
and shift your weight from one foot to the other
search your pocket
and uncrease your wares gently towards their sights
your next move is vital
do not pretend you already know that you will be sent away
give them the magnitude of the moment they deserve
and when they point you off
remember: the cities that have claimed you
are ashed.

* * *

The past was never beautiful
but it was better
than your precise and reasoned talons
and beaks
the future was always beautiful
always an anticipation
of the one nature that would
pulse good and green, just and
plentiful through each vein
and Satan, Satan, would be a child's scream
in an innocent, limb-strutting game

The past was never beautiful
but through its knotted strings my ancestors
speak to me with apocryphal gestures
and languages you will never understand
and dances that would strain your gait

I hope still,
I am

* * *

These evil times, autumn already
with the sun already bruised, ignored and hated by the new gods
unremembered by the old -
shining on our forgotten cities, fog-lashed, crowd-blinded
unsuspecting of these last, momentous hours ridiculed
by all the tribes and bards, thinned out to bone
plagued, mosquitoed,
as we sit waiting for the darker hours
so we can go
and follow the remaining random, muted stars.

All is in flight: the paper birds we made, dabbed with paint
glued up with mulch from flour, flapped past and are gone
the monks stole past clutched book, bent yellow gait and page
and we, cursed by each frostbite
damned by each psalm or poem, impure
gather the animals and search for the other pasture
the next spring, some promise of flint, of porridge

All is in flight - left is the sound of nature's justice
the eternal jaws of the eternal chattering of ants

There was a cart, more of a boat inside a dream than cart,
that always prowled on, despite mist or cold, towards the
brilliant, fanciful city of our hope
the city which was unhaunted by the sighs of all those cut
which was without the tear, the soaked bread, the shrill sound of
a shovel against a stone, metal on stone
the city which had our household, its wooden rafters fragrant
still, from a memory of root, its plants and horse, its air and kin
interplaying alongside the thresher who insisted she loved her
harvest and where each stone marked the pathway of a dream

I have built the cart, twine and sackcloth, rounded wheel, inside
my soul
I am waiting for autumn's breeze, flap of a wing and song and
to my untraded home and lands.

* * *

Restless rest,
the camels wheezing
gods hiding behind cliffs
and inside the thicket's tiny blossoms

the descent carved on each torn muscle
and then, the past drums at my temple

You have been my past
my body, my pulse
each image of you scalds the moon
that scowls at my remorse

The men will gather to wash the body
you never loved, stiffened by the retiring cells
leathered by the worm that snapped its spine
longing in my thoughts for you
without your veils and cloth
caressing the eyebrows clean of frown
the pubis clean of rusted hair

And you will weep

The women will gather around the shroud
with loosened hair, solemn on a solemn floor
and plait their sorrow against a silent wind
And you will recoil and cloister our past
And you will weep

The men will lift me up
the men will sway me over their heads
over each other down past these inclines
and devil-haunted, balsam-haunted, devil-conquered
paths to my mother - the sea
its azure and glitter and umbilical weed
humming my limbs to tender clay and ash
and send me to Allah's marine gardens

And you will stand on the rocks
veil-waving, harsh, austere, serene
and between the eyelid and the eye
the wrist and navel, an inkling of a lecher's lore
And you will weep, oh you will weep and weep

And I will be carried off on the humps
of whales with red ribbons floating from their fins
rested, beautiful, in restless times
beyond the ache that garnishes each of my arteries
and bones

And you will, oh you will and will, weep
for us, for me.

* * *

Oh my love, my life I said
as I revived feeling my headless neck
and crawled, past the mass of torsos, to the stakes
where the redshirts planted our heads
to frighten as they said the restless natives

I felt the wood, the splinters, and despite the numb pain and the fatigue, I felt each head after each head spiked on the poles who spoke to me, asking for my clan name and whether a Zondi or a Ntuli ancestor claimed me as his own; and then with my fingertips searching past the dried blood and onto my familiar neck, I stroked my face and opened up my eyelids against the blazing Nkandla sun; I searched for my teeth in vain; I lifted you off the sharpened tip and felt the ivory earring gone and behind the ear, the war incisions crusted; I placed you under my arm and said oh lead me out of this land broken by infamy and barter and with my head under my arm I ran to the left of the sunrise, my eyes, my tears, my heart, my body still possessed by war-muti enlioned, my legs, tired, but still, the zebra's stride of my praise-name; I ran; and the mosquitoes did not harm me; the Umfolozi crocodiles and eagles smiled at me; the valleys of Phongola shrieked through their cicadas my homestead's names; the Umlungu carried on the shoulders of hired black hands fell off his stretcher throne; the Shangaan giraffe with its beady eyes showed me the way; field-mice cooked themselves for me to place over my torso into my gut; and the head under my arms cried at nature's last call, its mourning sounds ironed from the smiths of Maputo's plains; the elephant did not hear me; the wild cats bowed their heads in shame; the ibis and the gwala-gwala shrieked at my sight; I ran; on the thornfields of Dar es Salaam I heard the voices of Africa confused by the cross and the moon and the star and the head under my arms cried, take me to Ethiopia, run dear soul run, because it is said that Bambatha has run there ahead with his head under his arms crying too; and the lakes did not drown me, the people gathered on the paths and knelt, humming in strange but familiar voices about the end of our worlds.

And I ran, the homesteads of men sprinkled me with water, the rows of slaves tore at their metallic arms and I ran; my head full of tears and my legs, ligaments gone when the sun, with a red scar on its chin, laughed and said, those are your mountains, the birthmarks of our clans, run boy run, lift your head up above your shoulders, decorate it with garlands and wash it off with brine, you will be home tonight, and I ran up the heartpath to the land of the wind of time, my head high up above the shoulders to start again the rounds of sorrow, homecomings, exile and the promise of centuries of malcontent. Oh my love, our lives, our scars.