[from Kwame Dawes's Midland, Ohio University, 2001]
Map Maker [excerpt]
It is harder, though, to chart the smell of a country,
the concentric mixing of the mud-washed
market with its brown earth-heavy scent
of vegetables bleeding; yams, like elephantine
fingers, white and seeping where the knife
cuts; the impotent regularity of lime green
okras; the glowing violet of obscene garden eggs.
How do you sketch the rotting scent of a mammal's
carcass dangling from rusty hooks, trying
to suck in the salt sea spray to preserve itself
from the crawl of maggots? How do you write
the city's stench, the gutters breeding mosquitoes
as huge as wasps, giddy drunk and brazen like flies?
This earth defies the cartographer's even lines,
the tidy predictability of shapes, the neat names with precise
capitals, no smudge, no uncertainty of the hand. It is hard to tell
that the land has shifted, blooming new contours.
The charts cannot change as fast as the ironic jungle.
We have come this way before, I am certain,
but the landmarks are not exactly what they were.
The river is now a bow, now a crescent where once
it was straight, or so it seemed. The natives ask no questions;
they sniff the air, move their eyes, and live.
The cartographer, I know, understands the fiction
of this telling, the lines are myths, dream-stories
in the faces of his crew. The only constant is the psychotic
lament of Wagner and a bloody warrior from the Warrau soldier
who has followed the scent of this march for weeks like a breeze.
The notes of music are caught in the foliage.
On the way back, they have only just begun to drop
like shed leaves in the blackened creeks of this hinterland.
Buy Kwame Dawes's book from Amazon