To Martin: Etoko, Cameroon
Poolside, an ocean’s distance from the coast
and village where I met you, learned the weight
of bagged cement, the reek of palm oil stirred
by children sweating near bonfires, I write.
We swim in water, Martin, that’s too clean
to drink. Our dark footprints evaporate,
and we’re alone, left sipping yellow drinks.
You’d hate it here, propped up on plastic chairs,
the posture of oblivion: the look
your mother wore the day we found her, thin
and facing upward in the village creek,
her hair untangled, skin so water-logged
you couldn’t lift her. Shamed, you let me hold
her legs, help pull her out as her clothes dripped
on dirt that turned to mud. We would have called
her dying foot entrapment. Even drowning is
a science here, though death remains abstract:
the heart relaxing like a punctured raft,
the sudden stroke, car accidents occurring
like news flashes of a different life.
Don’t pity us. I know you watched her grave,
staring a hole through that unplowable
red clay. Here, a girl swims butterfly.
Kids thwack a tennis ball straight up and gape
at its lazy grace. We have no tragedies,
can’t fight the breeze that eddies over us,
can only dream of places we’ll forget
as bees, heavy with pollen, still their wings.