Tuesday, May 31, 2011


This piece is inspired by a documentary I watched some years ago, filmed in southern Africa. A nurse who was also the aunt of an HIV positive orphan girl said a phrase which stayed with me, "When she's older she'll understand."


Why am I positive?

The little girl’s question

hung in the morning

Naked and still

like a black and white memory

Preserved forever by a rush of light

Against the grainy surface

of a photographic plate

And the elders looked one at the other,

Searching for letters to spell disaster

“When you’re a little older, “

they said to her

“When you’re a little older,

you’ll understand.”

But it was the elders

Who could not comprehend

How ‘positive’ became a Basuto word,

A Bapeti word

A Xhosa word without the clicks

Which nature bestowed

On moist pink tongues

So many years ago

She would not stop,

she wanted to know

Why Grandfather’s smile

showed so many holes

Each gap left by the passing of souls

Between life and death

Between air and earth

Informal transcendences

of one form to the next

The old man answered with a lisp

"Your face is as bright as a slice of the moon

Your laughter melodious as a marimba tune"

Then he lost the smile

As it wavered and thinned

Far short of the corners of tear charged eyes

Why am I positive? The little girl read

One finger tracing the border of words

From left to right

From eye to tongue

And the pupils heard the teacher’s reply

“You run and play and study hard

Sometimes you’re first

In quizzes and tests

You’re young and curious,

The brightest and best

You always do your homework first"

The teacher summoned mist from the hills

Watched it settle over the playing-field

And there observed the funeral of the future

In rhythm games and nursery rhymes

Why is she positive? The village asks

Her mother lies all day upon a mat

Beneath a mango tree in the yard

Her father escaped the other day

Resting in the shade of the same old tree

It was her aunt, the nurse, the giver of pills

Who said she was positive by the shade of her blood

“When you’re little older”, she said to her

“You’ll understand what it means to be positive.”

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Honey-Making or The Proposal

In my short memoir, Witness in Silk, included in the anthology, "My Wedding Dress", I contrast my marriage by Akan custom to the wedding which followed. My dad had to perform this same custom for all four of his daughters in their turn. I remember after everything was finished by way of custom for his newly married daughter, he would have a shower and dress in a particular white woven cloth he had. It had indigo stripes running horizontally across it, and he called it his white cloth. He would sit outside all by himself, nursing a drink in his hand and keeping a very serious expression. And if you asked him, he would say. "Me wer3 ahow," meaning I am sorrowful. Here is a poem I wrote searching for his feelings every time he gave a daughter away in marriage.

Honey-making or The Proposal

They sat themselves proud

In his garden

Told him of the flower they had watched all season

Begin to unfurl

And open delicate petals

With dew drops glistening

Hanging tenaciously

Like the unshed tears

Of a proud woman

Full and ready to roll down

They told him

In garnished word salads

How much they yearned

Not only to linger there

And sniff the rich pollen-weighted aroma

Of his flower

Not only to gaze on the dark purple

That amazed and confounded

But compelled them

Beyond all caution

To pluck the flower

And make it their own

As he sat on his side of the garden

Lost in the business

Of pricing his flower

His special wonder

Which had grown up

Too quickly

Watered and pruned

Under care-giving hands

His desire was to preserve

The beauty of innocence

From greedy capricious

Flower harvesting hands

That would never rest

Until they devoured

What their eyes admired

“Did you know,” he said,

Nectar is what attracts true bees

And honey-making is their need?”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Of Women on Marian Day

I was honored to be the guest speaker at the Saint James High School at their Marian Day celebration. I was asked to speak on womanhood in a personal way. The day begun with the reading of an excerpt from a Toronto national newspaper, a piece written by the adventurous and esteemed Kiehlburger brothers in celebration of their mother. But they did not fail to mention the difficulties of women worldwide and their particular vulnerability to rape, war, prostitution, poverty and human trafficking. My own piece was centered around my retelling of the story, Wesepa, an old folktale from Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea, recounted to me by Justo Bolekia Boleka, a professor of literature. My brief address after the story was focussed on the feminine attributes of nourishment and nurturing, beginning with the inner self and moving outwardly in ever widening circles of connections. The ceremony was a beautiful liturgy honoring Mary the mother of Jesus and all womankind, with a procession, flowers, candles, bible readings and the saying of prayers. My preparation for my presentation included a look at Maya Angelou's famous poem, 'Phenomenal Woman'. It did not speak for me this time, so I searched through my own poems for a sense of my own thoughts on womanhood. I came across one poem that I had written a long time ago, concerning the silencing of women. It had even more meaning for me in a much wider context, as many African countries of today forge through the turbulent politics of thinly masked dictatorships by the practice of highly volatile and divisive demonstrations of elections. Many citizens hold their breath in silence, unsure where the chips will fall and how dangerous life may suddenly become in the face of vindictive leadership. Here is my poem,

The Gender of Words

When the words of women are stopped

Mouths don’t die

They wrap themselves in satin veil

And speech cocoons in layers of tulle

Mood is a screen, purple or wine

And behind it

Precocious copulations without ecstasy

On the surface and only just

Thin vapours rise on a nonchalant breeze

Time sings to the watchful eye

And velvet womb swells

With crossed conversations

In the honeycomb, whispers of agony

Wait to be born at the dawn of light

Then behind the screen, at last

The infant cries the length of a breath

Minimizes the voices of a dozen midwives

Who hush new vocabularies one by one.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Black by Nature

Several years ago, I created a dance choreography for the African Society of Guelph, University of Guelph. The chosen theme was Harvest, and as part of the performance I wrote this piece of poetry, entitled "Black by Nature." A couple of weeks ago, the Gaudeamus Choirs of Halton Hills chose to read this piece during a public performance.

Black by Nature

Black is rich as humous

Nurturing the living

With gifts from the dead

Black earth endures

Masterful, dependable,

Endearing, cajoling

Sucking good from rain and sun

More rain, more sun,

Moist earth, Sun life,


Food is a song

And laughter bright and dancing

Like rays of light

Reaching the eyes

Between the bold green leaves

Of corn and banana trees

And mounds of growing yam

Shouting life, life…


Has birthed pain yet again

And tears wash sorrow from sore eyes

Pain too has borne life

And from the depths of soul

Belly shaking laughter

Now rises to the sun

White teeth

Glistening in the light

Life is black by nature

Fierce, unpretentious

Warm, all absorbing


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Red like your smile.

Spring sprung halfway to Summer. Thank God for the sun. On a cold dripping miserable day, I was filling up my tank at the gas station, turned around and saw this woman, dressed to the hilt and filling up her car. Her lips were the hottest, brightest red but they did not smile, neither did her eyes. And when my eyes met hers she looked away, her lips pressing tighter against each other. I know don't smile all the time, and I wondered how many times I might have painted my lips to make them attractive when the best ornament is a friendly smile. Watch that smile :-)



Without nick

or dint

Deep red

And pressed



Moist red

Stretched thin

Bright red


Drawing eyes

To lips

Carefully dipped

In acrylic

Which then forgot

To wear

A winning smile

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mothers Day

In the late eighties my mother joined my father in Dakar, Senegal for his sabbatical. It was here that my mother, Felicia, decided to take French lessons after several difficulties taking taxis and making purchases. See, my mom likes to bargain, and imagine doing that in a land where one does not speak the language. She would break her English up into the oddest sequences, mix her phrases up with Ghanaian languages and variations of pidgin spoken in Ghana, gesticulate wildly with insertions of excusez moi, all to no avail. So she enrolled in class and was given a French poem to learn: La Lune. My mother who loves poetry, applied herself zealously to her homework especially as the verbs and other disciplines overwhelmed her. I have written a poem for her on this celebration of Mothers Day. I bless my mother for having me.

Mother Life

I began

By force of explosion

A flame and fusion

In a trinity of ideas

A union of wind, water and earth

And an electric pulse

That never gave up

Intent or velocity

Dividing, differentiating, organizing

Moment by moment

In secrecy and utmost care

Sending signals which then changed

My mother forever

Like a seed in the earth

Making demands on nitrogen, water and air

And also and in time,


Love received me

After midnight and a shout

To suck and gaze and hold and squeeze

My need from you

All of you

From the crib inside

To the cradle on your back

I learn the rhythms of life

Sleep and wake

Work and play

Love and snuggle

Resist and withstand

In the songs you sing by day and night

Then by your side

Your guiding hand

Your trusty words, tried and true

You feed, you teach, applaud, rebuke

You save, you cover

Until danger has passed

And if ever you failed

Offside in the game

It was because you were real

And God has covered that, too

My mother

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Waiting for the Moon

I begun writing poems of my African childhood when my children were little, and I knew little about poetry. Imagine my surprise when many years later, Dianne Murray-Charatt, choir director of Gaudeamus Choirs of Halton Hills, asked if I might have some poems for their African themed concert. I searched for my hard copy manuscripts of those poems saved long ago on 5 1/4 floppies. So many of the poems missed the mark but some still appealed. I typed them afresh on my computer, editing and refinishing them before sending to Dianne for her pick. Three poems made it into the show. Here is one of them:

Waiting for the Moon

It was a dark night

And all the lights were out

We sat down on the doorstep

And waited for the moon

We heard the crickets cry

They called the bats to fly

Boka, the dog lay down to rest

And mosquitoes hummed in our ears

Nima told a story

Rama sang a song

Bella and I told riddles

And Nana fell asleep

We saw the fireflies glow

We felt a cool wind blow

We drew our covers tight

And then moon came out

A frightened bush-cat screeched

The distant owl shrieked

A dark cloud blotted out the moon

And Bella whispered, Ghost!

And then the thunder boomed

And lightning kissed the moon

Just as raindrops fell on us

We all run inside