FOLKS: "Many Rivers to Cross"

Somewhere the sky
touches the earth — and
the name of that place is
the end — in between
is the journey.

— African Saying

History Lesson: Diaspora

They love Africans in museum cases,
so they left African cultures intact.

— Ezekiel Mphahlele
"Remarks on Negritude"

First they stacked us
in the holds of their dark ships

Then they feasted on our mothers
our names      our blood      our shadows

They routed and captured our masks
our thrones      our bronze carved doors

Now in museums we discover our masks
their ancient eyes track us

We shiver

Discrete signs announce our origins
other signs caution us      Do not touch

Do not touch      Alarms will sound

Something shakes our memory
we encounter our shadows

Something crosses and recrosses
the danger water

We recall Praise Songs
Our ancestors touch us

Our names come home

for Pam McClusky (Seattle Art Museum)

Horn Men

you ever wonder
how they survive
these quote unquote black
men jazz jiving they tenor
in the up-to-date badlands
of South Africa
Johannesburg to be

say they be bad
they be up from the bush
long time out of the
bush these brothers be
watch they
pull music from spots
of leopards
from deep river beds
some say they music be
ancestor masks carved
from water trees

these bad brothers
what they know
be awesome
our essence
uh huh

what they make
be true as rain
see how they sweeten
this parched earth
welcome these brothers
hear them
move us into freedom

and beyond


fresh off the
they break you
in barbados

they split for you
you tounge
they slice for you
you ear

they dig for you
a hole of dirt
for you big child

they whip you
make you belly
lie down

they put on you
you neck
the ring of

they say no
to no eat the
sugar cane

they put on you
you mouth
the mask of

they tie you
man to
four green tree

they make you
man fly to
all four wind

they say you
you sing

sing calypso sky
sing soka wind
they ship you
to they home

all ways
they break you
in barbados

all ways

our bones be
ocean floors

our bones be
masts of ships

our bones be
coral reefs

our bones sing
of salt

Alien Dance Hall

Here a glittered stocking shimmers
here a severed pair of eyes
jams the blues

desire flaps its tentlike arms

Legs slow drag in the pockmarked dust
embrace suns blackened by ancient storms
clawed birds scream
perform a rag      a cakewalk      a stomp
a tango

this needle wind delivers
imported fragrances of old blood
and fetal bones

Stay here if you wish
Settle here if you wish

Remember while you can
somebody called
my ancestors cannibals

Dance with me
Dance with me