Sunday, 6 March 2011

Zambesi Paen 1995, a poem by Pamela Mordecai

mhembwe Shona word for 'duikers' (small antelopes)
Mwari Shona supreme god
vanhu Shona word for 'people'

Our old imported craft (Ah! but it knows
how to get through) insinuates its way
through driftwood logs their goggle eyes
(such legerdemain!) closed yes but still
waiting on time. Laden it ploughs past sleek-
skinned hippopotami who fan their fat
backsides claiming rights on this Grand River.
A snout submits a yellow yawn methodical
and wide. Why what sharp teeth you have! This from
some wit aboard. Nervy chuckles invade
luxuriant gallery forest green.
Everywhere else in this enormous stone
house Mwari's land is thirsty dry as bone.
Mhembwe perish in droves. Vanhu old and

young die as well but sovereign states
are sovereign and the price extorted by
an evil commonweal is fealty
or death. We reach and tie up at the dock
to rubberneck. There's nothing here but there
is everything. Leaves leap about the sky
strung by their tails. Moulting streams soar and flap
into the bush. Lianas dart tough tongues
to rope the heavens in lasso the clouds.
The trapped sky belches hawks but not a spit
of rain. On the bank frantic apes with eyes
perfect as wounds polished by worms extend
imploring arms in baleful port de bras
twirl wobbly pirouettes leap for leftovers flung

at water that laps still as before time.
"Once" says the guide "We all swam here, reptiles
and all. But now they take what falls in as
fair game." He smiles. We fail to grasp his wry
significance. The vessel turns downstream
towards torrents named after the tubby queen
that pour imperial gallons down a monumental scarp.
Headlong in the slim gorge next door
manic sauteurs bungee jump in
to plunder air all that's still left.
Trippers disgorging hurl bile on the waves;
gigantic haunches shrug the vomit off
as sacred crocodiles in camouflage
submerge and falcons roaming keep time in the sky.

Pamela Claire Mordecai (born 1942 in Kingston, Jamaica) is a Jamaican writer, teacher, and scholar and poet. She attended high school in Jamaica and college in the USA, where she did a first degree in English. A trained language-arts teacher with a PhD in English, she has taught at secondary and tertiary levels, trained teachers, and worked in media and in publishing.

Mordecai has written articles on Caribbean literature, education and publishing, and has collaborated on, or herself written, over thirty books, including textbooks, children’s books, and four books of poetry for adults. She has edited several anthologies. Her poems and stories for children are widely known and have been used in textbooks in the UK, Canada, the USA, West Africa and the Caribbean. Her short stories have been published in journals and anthologies in the Caribbean, the USA and Canada.

Mordecai has lived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada since 1994, but the Caribbean experience continues to be the focus of her writing.

Other work by Pam here and elsewhere

Pamela Mordecai

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