by Heather Quarles '11
In the living room, above the piano
It covers the whole wall,
and only two days afterwards in my haste to decorate
did I realize that the brown and green
continents were upside down.
As I sit comfortably
and regard the world with ease,
I am reminded of the January I spent sweating
when Africa turned around
the ideas of things I thought I knew.
There, the heat of the morning shimmered
as pavement roasted. Or maybe
that was the glow of garbage
cooking in the sun, behind Rita's dirt floor house.
Later, humid scents perspired in the afternoon,
in air too heavy to wipe away,
and the goatskin thumped into a rhythm
of heave-ho ocean fishing. Pull it in, nylon nets,
and watch Kwaku's bittersweet skin harden against his shoulders:
dark like the coco bean and full of strength from the sea.
Listen to the pittipittipa down the dirt street. Pittipittiboom.
Where is your mother, child? Pittipittipapa
where are your clothes? Where is the sorrow in your smile,
I can't see it anywhere. Do you carry it in the pittipittiboomboom
heel of your bare feet? Is it hidden in the papapapaping water jug,
balanced on your young head? Does it spill over the edges
when you run to chase the chickens?
Does it come later, under the papapapaboom
stars that paint the sky above the beach?
In the driftwood fire next to the boats,
will you beat the pittipitti pa, pittiboom pittiboom into the sand
and watch the next morning as my uncalloused feet
trample it, boomboom boomboom pa,
I never felt as sad until the day I saw your joy
when you drew in my book
and wrote your name: Jason.
Your drumming hands will grow
into the skilled set of a fisherman's. Maybe,
after distractions with tangled nets, your fingers
will recall the day they held my pencil
and took the afternoon to teach me
that our world
faces more than one direction.