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congo, tiamca, colango, matinga

bambara, nago

senegal, creole

i am the head of luís congo

and i speak for him


burnt and rotting in some farmer's field.

and you

you may chant and shout

and dance about your bonfires on the levees.

and drink your aguardiente till you burst.

drink up until your eyes shine liquid.

and you will never have the vision that he had.

will never see the world as he saw.

what are you in the end

            but a wretched lot of slaves?

the lot of you


in an alien land

under the rule of a pale, slight and ghostly

and alien man?

you laugh

you drink

and for a moment

your pain is gone.

but i am here to tell you:

it is not over.

a thousand thousand betrayals hound you

among even those of you

dancing on this very water.

it is not over.

he is only dead.

he is not yet through

with you.








agua --

if there is among you any congo man

any man with but a grain of pity in his soul

give me a drink of water as i die.

but look

look they cry out in their festive voices

the head of luís congo

it speaks

it begs a drop of water

the head of the great murderer

our torturer

the head of luís congo cries out for water

... .


Excerpted from "The Head of Luís Congo Speaks" from All Saints: New & Selected Poems


All works © by Brenda Marie Osbey


just before you see them

there is their confounded


the sound of those root ends

against their tambourines

but no one really hears them coming

just the thud of those bare feet

against the broken surfaces

of the banqette

the low rumbling of song

and then bahalia


and yet

you can never say you hear them


it is like that

their coming



it is not tonight i will find the path

i am ready, damballah

but the way is barred


a slender woman in red skirts

tignon and golden hoops through her ears

young and smooth

and jerking to the sound

of old blood

and thin-skinned men

walking on the graves of the old ones


i am ready, oh spirit

but the way is dark



and like rising from a dream

they are gone

and like a vision they never leave you


standing in my sidelight

you can see them

women so far gone

that their walking is dance

madhouses so grey

against the other houses and churches

that you pretend for now

you do not see them

and never did


but when you make the final journey

and stand at the crossing

seeking the barred footing

it was i who first showed you

and remember my name

it was felicity who told you

how to exit one madhouse

and enter the other.



from Ceremony for Minneconjoux






these women men business

burn their hair only on the ends

and spit tobacco

in the reverends hedges

they call themselves


and wear bare feet in public

daring fathers and brothers

to come down on the banqette

and i have seen them dancing

along the interstate in mid-january



we call them madhouses

but it is only that we fear

i know their secrets

only through having learned them

the hardest way


my name is felicity

i live inside the city

i am telling only

as much as you can bear



the bahalia women are coming

from round st. james

carrying the bamba-root

in their hands

believe on those hands

and they will see you through seasons

of drought and flood

believe on these hands

and you will cross the grandy-water



journey with me and see what i see


first you hear the leaves

past silence

hitting the ground

moving along the streets

with an undercurrent of rhythm

moving to your bloodbeat

and the sounds of your hands


reaching up

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