for Moremi, 1963
Earth will not share the rafter’s envy; dung floors
Break, not the gecko’s slight skin, but its fall
Taste this soil for death and plumb her deep for life
As this yam, wholly earthed, yet a living tuber
To the warmth of waters, earthed as springs
As roots of baobab, as the hearth.
The air will not deny you. Like a top
Spin you on the navel of the storm, for the hoe
That roots the forests plows a path for squirrels.
Be ageless as dark peat, but only that rain’s
Fingers, not the feet of men, may wash you over.
Long wear the sun’s shadow; run naked to the night.
Peppers green and red-child-your tongue arch
To scorpion tail, spit straight return to danger’s threats
Yet coo with the brown pigeon, tendril dew between your lips.
Shield you like the flesh of palms, skyward held
Cuspids in thorn nesting, insealed as the heart of kernel-
A woman’s flesh is oil-child, palm oil on your tongue
Is suppleness to life, and wine of this gourd
From self-same timeless run of runnels as refill
Your podlings, child, weaned from yours we embrace
Earth’s honeyed milk, wine of the only rib.
Now roll your tongue in honey till your cheeks are
Swarming honeycombs-your world needs sweetening, child.
Camwood round the heart, chalk for flight
Of blemish-see? it dawns!-antimony beneath
Armpits like a goddess, and leave this taste
Long on your lips, of salt, that you may seek
None from tears. This, rain-water, is the gift
Of gods-drink of its purity, bear fruits in season.
Fruits then to your lips: haste to repay
The debt of birth. Yield man-tides like the sea
And ebbing, leave a meaning of the fossilled sands.