A Writer Writes

Poems from African Stiltdancers

by Andrew Oerke (Staff: Tanzania, Uganda, CD Malawi, CD Jamaica 1966–71)

The Old Missionary Graveyard at Nkhata Bay

Doing their hospitals, schools, and model farms
Without the protection of chloroquin,
In a malarial delirium, they saw
The fervent paws of the Great Mother dispensing
Laws of compassion they had not complied
With enough, or had it come to impeaching
The Blue for not coming to their aid, and blazing
Above it all, a tired old man was welcoming
Them home without a handshake. The rotting
Wooden crosses are their CIS’s
Awarded anonymously posthumously.
They did what they could and that was something.

Serengetti Sunset

Miles and miles of giraffes galloping
in slow-motion above the pickled bones
of Zinjanthropus, foot after foot of lions’
claws culling savannah. And lolliping
lolliping steps the ostrich without stooping,
and leopard spots dance on the heat’s muscles rippling.

Wrapped in blowsy capes the register of dung,
With tourists peeping at their genitals,
The Masai post like high cranes by their cattle.
They do not change. The sky never changes, hung
As it is with that splendid medallion,
Except at sunset when it mingles milk with blood and urine.

Village Waterhole

Animals on stilts waffle through heat-waves.
The heat-waves wrinkle the eye across the sky.

Watch us crowd around the waterhole,
Our eyes drowning in our own reflection.

Nothing escapes our scrutiny
Except our own likeness as we kiss
The spit and image of our slippery selves in the water.

Addis at Easter

Goats flung over their shoulders
Like Italian sweaters,
Ethiopians throng Addis at Easter.

The women wear white cotton dresses
And have gorgeous faces.

In the souk we adjust each other’s price.
Walk away, walk back again
Until the deal is struck
To start the day
With a stroke of good luck.