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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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WIND

 

                                     Dogon Country, Mali 

 

In the morning , subdued--

a drunk who gets loud

as the day wears on.

 

Three afternoon musket shots

echoing off the wind-

swept cliffs mean a dead man's spirit,

overstaying its time in the village,

is being driven to the bush

to start the awful journey

to paradise.

 

Late afternoon breezes shifting directions,

carrying the voices of children

from the four corners of the village

mean all is well.

 

Night-winds

tearing through the bush--

girls and women

keep to their huts,

where the half-visible

spirits of the bush

cannot make them pregnant

with their monstrous progeny.

 

Leaves rustling

at the edges of the village--

the year's dead

are restless again.

They pace the air,

plead to rejoin their families

in the flesh

of the next-born infant,

gusting, subsiding, and murmuring prayers

for breath.


                                      -Andrew Kaufman 

 



CHILDREN IN THE FOREST

 

 

When I left the last village

voices of children

in the foliage

grew louder

than the white-water river.

 

Twenty children found me

and crowded around--

Tell us your name, they sang out happily,

Do you go

for the old German cemetery

in the bush?  The big stone house

in the forest, with columns?  You look

for the old jail

in the woods?

 

Can you tell me, I asked,

Are there spirits in the bush?

On the tallest tree

there was not a single leaf,

just branches bearing a spiky green fruit

I had never seen.

 

A boy picked a beautifully colored beetle

from a stem and held it before me.

 

Yes, many, they answered.

Can you tell me their names?

I heard a buzzing in the ground foliage

like that of trapped bees

probing for an exit

to the sun.

 

A stand of pink blossoms

turned to butterflies

as we approached.

 

A yellow butterfly

settled on the trail

and became a leaf.

 

Alinka lives in the waterfall,

on the mountain, a boy replied. 

He protects the village.

Agboth captures those wandering alone

in the forest.  He beats them to death

and eats them.  He comes at night

to the village.

 

A foot-long blossom,

containing a red tongue

opened like the moist mouth

of paradise. 

 

At the brook on the road

lives the spirit of a white man

who died in a motorcycle accident,

but he is neither good nor bad.

He does nothing.

 

Boys pointed to broad, spreading leaves,

each with twelve fingers, and said,

 

This tree, too, has fruit

but it is poison.

A boy plucked a locust

from a leaf, held it before me

and said, We prepare it like this,

as he deftly tore off each leg and wing,

then tossed it to the ground,

laughing.

 

The tombstones were broken,

weed-choked, effaced,

the metal plaques gone.

 

Trees glistened in the sun

Through what had been

the plantation house roof.

 

The wall of a sitting room

had been used as a blackboard

for first grade arithmetic.

 

A Western toilet,

hauled into the kitchen

contained the remains

of someone's recent vomit.

The large parlor room

was scattered with goat shit

graffiti, and a few singed aluminum cans.

                                                                                                           

I heard a rush of insects

sounding like a distant wind.

 

The German prison

stood solid, impenetrable

in the foliage.

 

Atami causes sores and pox,

like these.  Two boys rolled up their pants legs.

There are many, many smaller spirits.

But since the woods were burned

long ago, there are no gods

in here.  Now there is God, only one God,

in the sky

                                        -Andrew Kaufman

 

    

                                                                                                                                           Tuogo, Mali  by  Andrew Kaufman 

 

 

DRUMMING 

 

 

                                Beating the Dry Earth  by  Andrew Kaufman  

 

 

               1.

On the slave route

to the Point of No Return,

walking to the ocean

I could not tell if the cries I heard

were men imitating animals

or animals imitating men.

Something began hooting.

I did not know

if the thumping that came from the forest

off and on all afternoon

was ceremony or labor,

drum or hammer.

 

 

                2.

The drumming

in the village, morning to dusk,

is women and children,

pestle and mortar

pounding millet into paste.

 

 

                3.

With neither plow nor harrow,

the hollow Thud, thud, thud

just beyond the village

is men with axes and clubs

beating open

the dry ground.

 

 

                4.

Where three dirt paths meet,

their naked backs caked with sand,

forty women dance around the village tree,

The big wife, as men put it,

slimmer second and third wives,

and mid-teen-aged girls, naked breasts

glistening with sweat and moonlight,

bald women without teeth,

and pubescent girls--

lowering their bodies toward the sandy earth,

their elbows like wings

beating the air

into the dirt

in thanks for harvests

past, passing, and to come.

 

             -Andrew Kaufman                                                                                                            

 


 

CAFE BAOBAB

 

 

Soldiers come. At night. Kill my family.

I run. They shoot--my mother, my father--

Please.  Write your name.  Then we go--embassy.

 

Here--no work.  They stamp my visa, Refugee.

I run. The forest. They kill my neighbors.

Night.  Then--my house.  They kill my family.

 

They take from my house.  What they can carry.

I try for work.  Taxi-man.  Bar man.  Seller.

Tell me your name.  We go?  U.S. embassy?

 

You tell them--I am your friend.  You help me.  

You give job.  They kill my small sister.

The soldiers.  Night.  Tell them, They kill my family.

 

Not possible for me in your country?

Europe--we try.  You tell them, Congo.  War.

We go. You and me. You talk. To French embassy.

 

I ask no cadeau. Not ask money.

You tell my story.  You. A writer!

Night, the soldiers come they kill my family.

You come.  We try.  A different embassy.

 

                                               -Andrew Kaufman

 


GREASE


 

                                                                                                                            Sara-seyni, Mali by  Andrew Kaufman   

 

 

When I felt my way out

of the windowless mud hut

on hands and knees to urinate

while the village slept,

I found, near the horizon, the brightest star,

 

but did not know which horizon,

or if it was the evening

or morning star.  A thin bell tolled six times.

I searched for outlines

of a mud wall where I had squatted in the dirt

 

with strangers around an oil lamp.

The shadows of hands,

mine huge and dark as theirs, had moved in silence

between mouths and caldron.

Grease dripped from fingers, lips, chins.  Women and girls,

wives and second wives, ate by a lantern

in a far-off corner.  Before earth and sun,

they say a solitary god

had made the Milky Way

by masturbating into the night.

Our grease smudges and teeth

flashed in dim lantern light.

 

Women had spent the day,

like every day, gathering dry cow dung

for cooking fires, scaring away children

and goats, spreading rice across the dirt to dry

even as birds pecked at it,

then pounding it for hours

with pestle and mortar

until it was paste.  Dinner

was when it got dark, we woke when it got light,

rested when it was hottest,

and slept at night.  You shit

into a hole in the ground,

and when it's full

someone starts a new one.

Against the mud wall our giant hands

had closed around fistfuls of goat and rice paste,

then rose and opened

with quick, wet slapping sounds

to monstrous shadows

of lips.


                             -Andrew Kaufman