O, Afrika—Great Liberator

I—O, Afrika—Great Liberator

The last great land!
The heart the history,
Our Sister and Mother ghosts in freedom:
Transcurrence, resistance, and happiness.

Where the fires smolder
In Haïti or France,
In dreams and dreams and dreams—
Afrika, great Liberator.

Through the mahogany wood it came—
The smell, the secret texture:
Shackles and AK-47s, [whispering]
Rebellion! Rebellion!

Where sons drag slings
And anxious herdsmen sing
To the wild and the dam,
To the river and the heartbeat.

Over  dunes and blooming deserts,
The silver Nile, green Congo, tributary Gambia—
Cloud forests and rain basins;
Golden savannah stirpping baobab bark.

Buildings and trees come aflame
Between the night and the sun,
On revolutionary roads
Mbalax only seems to talk to the wind.

O, Afrika! Great Liberator
My savior my soul,
Red mountain of Vapor.
The Lion disintegrates into the grass.

II—A Jacquerie au Kongo

When Lukeni lua Nimi,
Son of Nimi a Nzima
Of the great Mpembe Kasi
(Mother of the King of the Kongo)
Conquered the kingdom of the Mwene Kabunga:
He rose to the throne in Mbanza-Kongo.

From that sun city of Kongo,
Upon the division of the land
He looked out at the green delta
And freemen in raffia cloth;
A river than never stopped
And the Great Rift Valley.

He was able to see all Awenekongo to come.

But when Afonso I
Saw the Great Rift Valley
And the great, swift Congo,
He named it home,
And became the flood.
He named it São Salvador.

With five arms with swords
Coming from his fire-crown
He was named alternatively
Pious and Pagan
Because he would secretly say,
“The colonizers have brought us guilt.”

He gave all Awenekongo the Coat of Arms and the Church.

So when Álvaro I on his throne
Was brought a Nkuluntu
From mesopotamian Pango, bleeding
And wailing in his dialect
Of a jacquerie on the frontier,
He spoke with the Portuguese emissary-merchant.

The slaves taken in war—
The Yaka Jaga, from “The Seven”
Border raiders, rebels, and peasants,
Taken in a lost war—
Had organized in their chains
And shot the Nkuluntu.

They were to be taken to Portuguese Luanda and then São Tomé.

“Back to the forest, back to the forest!”
They cried under the sunset,
Under the shadow of Mount Nyiragongo,
The umbrella of soot
That made fertile
The Great Rift Valley.

Past jagged cliffs
And unnamed fruit,
Through the Garden
When the hills shook with thunder
And afterbirth that took them,
Took them back to the womb of rebellion.

III—Rebellion Congolaise

The shadows crossed the river by moonlight,
They crossed in the beautiful darkness of the night
With machetes for teeth
And rifles over their heads.

They could hear the clearing machine—
King Leopold, the fire-king;
Slavemonger and thief, Mobutu Sese Seko—
It rattled in the distance.

They forded the diamond Congo
And it sparkled dark red
And all the fish were dead
Floating to the wide ocean.

Ebola kills fast
And they burnt down the UN hospitals.
Red-orange eyes pushed and pulse
With virus and fright:

From the green horizon
Rose smoke like columns
From tire fires
And burning villages.

In the heat they waded
To the crying interior,
That called to them
With tears like bullets

The clanging chains
Became canisters of shells,
Bartered for blood
For revenge and the great Congo.

The rebellion Congolaise:
Heavenly glow from the earth—
The thousand leaves of the tropical forest
Clatter, sword against shield

When, in the apocalypse,
In the Belgian Congo,
There cried a voice,
The howl of a woman being raped.

IV—Les Arbres du Ténéré

In the vast Sahara of Afrika
Tamasheq calls snake trails
From secret cave springs
To murrain herds,
From rushy oases of resistance
To empires of dry weeds,
Whetted with the shades
Of the thirsty Garamantes.

Bordered by the Aïr Mountains—
High-west home of the Gods
And the Kel Aïr Federation—
And Ahaggar, the Northern mountains,
Bordered by the dead waves
Of Lake Chad, the birthplace
Of the Asp and Camel,
Thrives a sea of nomad people,
Striving lone as acacias in the desert.

Tuaregs—untamable as takoba swords
And swathed in indigo Tagelmust—
Crowded their herds through
The sand plains of freedom,
Shielding their eyes from
The whipping sands of time
With ruddy souls of rebellion
Traveling in saddle-calloused
Salt caravans and unfettered.

But, before the governorate
Of Khartoum raised pillars of sand,
The Tuareg were scattered wide—
Songhai took empery of the desert
For a time—in the vast gallery
Of gold, red, and blue skin
With horizons for borders.

V—Songhai Coup and Tuareg Rebellion

Through the sweeping Tinariwen
Progressed the Songhai Empery,
New Queen of the Sahara,
Bringing red Niger
To the golden-trocked desert—
Her train trampled down myrtle
Under wheels and sandals,
And spearshaft butts,
In defiant claim over and empire.

From Mali to Lake Chad—
To where the world ended
500 years ago and was reborn;
The native sycophants
Came and praised the dust
That drowned out completely
The Tamasheq calls of rebellion.

But the dowager Matriarch
Had a son of fire,
Rotting under the penumbra
Of maternal Songhai.
The first dove from the ship,
He rotted in the sun too,
Administering the distant governorate
Of Ténéré with a single tree,
Dewy in the desert mornin.

It was there, afflicted
With greedy filial defiance,
That the Prince of Songhai
Gathered braves of Tuareg soul
And translated the vinous whisper
Of a coup to come—
Freedom for nomads—
A shifting dune of revolution
Armed to usurp
The fifth point of the compass.

The Prince and his banner
Of desert rebel-fighters
Stood against the black and gold,
Of the deserette Queen.
And after seven months
Of soaking the sand bloody,
He bribed imperial generals
To betray and behead his Mother
And advance the Prince to King.

The world ended 500 years ago
And it would again. Betrayal:
Imperial levies on the desert and sky—
The infinite—throwing the Tuareg into
A prison so vast—empire.
So they rebelled, red-skinned
Marauders slaughtering soldiers
Of gold-skinned conscription.

For the Prince—in conference
With the blood of Mali
And the veins of the Niger—
Retiring to his chambers
There awaited the curved blade
Engraved with Tifinagh and quick—
The independence conspiracy
That freed the Tinariwen to the sands
And swept away the footsteps
Of a Mother and Son
Drunk on oppression and resisted.

VI—Shark Island and the Skeleton Coast

Shark Island, Deutsche Südwestafrika,
The steel wings of angels
Shimmering with festering wounds—
Malaria, rifles, the sjambok—
Shucked the Herero of life, dusting history over with grains of sand.

The first concentration camps,
Natal of slavery and madness,
Where imperial sharks swarm
To eat the exiles bodies in
Exposed graves on the riptide coast of skeleton’s blossom sand.

Gnarled smells of insanity,
The snuff of Stiefel land grab,
Folks flung wide from the plains
By salty soldiers and violent administrators
Who ordered the trees to uproot and find shelter in septic sand.

A Bundesadler feathered with slaughter—
The teeth of insurgency
Fired down to oblivion
A massacre too great to remember
Beckoning a century of genocide, ghosts with spears, and sand.

Scientifically imperially unhuman
Winded by salt whips,
Horse manure, and gunpowder
To Luderitzbucht and ash memories
Of a suicidal resistance against a sea climbing and receding from the moribund strand.

Slit throats speak drum words—
1904, rebel letters find Ovaherero alive,
Revolution! Revolution!
With the dead buried dirt deep
And nightmares of eyelevel sharks eating bodies from the shallow sand.

Here we climb fresh-hewn spears,
To make your clothesskin crawl
Fore golden-teared liberation,
A free home among herds and huts
Fighting the sibling future of the Namib, consigned to a history of sand.

VII— Maji Insurgency, Tanganyika

We all drink the maji
One gourd at a time.
It’s thick to drink
And leaves your throat numb
So that we all cry outloud in the grass.

To Bokero we pray
And to our Mother,
The earth—Afrika ya Mashariki
Here is our homeland,
Land of thick tree, red dirt, and wet grass.

Our high spears,
Fresh limbs with sap
And sharp smelted points
And no rust, only blood—
At Alfajir—that we wipe on the very grass.

Tunatoka miombo,
Matumbi, Tanganyika,
Land of golden summer,
With Ifakara behind us
We gather like wildebeest and graze like giraffe.

The assault is looming
On Mahenge without windows
Against Kaiser’s orders
To tame the land:
“Ziehen Sie Baumwolle und Sklaven aus dem Gras heraus.”

Bokero, and they all,
Knew the twitch—
The sjambok, the whip
That tore and starved,
The white hand that choked red grass.

The flag was raised
Red, White, and Black
From the sky, the coast,
A lion and the Bundesadler—
The wild animals that didn’t eat grass.

Ya, it rained blood
Watch out, you mighty colonists
It’s raining blood
Across the Serengeti
And the places where they fenced in the grasslands.

Blessed, we cry
For our mother Afrika—
15 ghosts with no skin
And the turncoat Askari
Shake as we advance in a column, borne from the grass.

Outside Mahenge,
The cliff, by the thousands,
Surrounding the fort,
We watch rebellion spread:
Millet and spears above the line of the grass

But machineguns created no halos
In equatorial winter:
Red stains showing through cotton,
Bullets to water,
Blood and blood and blood on the dead grass.

Born/driven in cruelty:
“Hunger und Entbehrung,”
Dripped cold water,
“Esuriency and desideratus,”
From Gustav Adolf von Götzen, Graf.

Like rusting iron, he governed
And died in Hamburg, alone,
But his blood still pretends
Revolutionary Mexico with its monarchy of ash.

He left genocide,
Stacks of disfigured bodies
For the plain of lions,
Carrying his mane down
From the sun so we could see it was just grease.

Maneaters, lions without manes,
The Ghost and the Darkness
To this day wander, waiting
For the bishop of Dar es Salaam,
To bite and spear him and disintegrate into the golden grass.

VII—The Eruption that Came and is to Come

A seed was set loose,
Red-black—large and round
Into the abyss, the depth,
A charge that sent the lava
Spewing into the air
With a plume of ash.

It rained for seven days
And blackened the stars at night
With the pumice and smoke
Spewing from the throat
Of the smoldering cone
Of Mount Nyiragongo:
Mother of the Great Rift Valley.

It spoke with a voice
That for seven days shook the earth
And made answer the irreverent—
Land owners of destroyed houses
Glowing piles of Chinese plastic—
Nourished the ground from carbon ashes.

When the smoke cleared
And the rain brought out the stars
Flushing a field of colors
Fresh and dark and deep,
The land rose healthy
And slowly did the green grass grow
Tips of igneous spears, never to be trampled again.

– Michaël Veremans

This entry was posted in Poems. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to O, Afrika—Great Liberator

  1. JamieLove says:

    VI ❤

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