Peace Corps Writers
A Writer Writes
5 Poems from West Africa
   by Carrie Young (Mali 2000–01)
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By the Light of the Moon

How free is the ocean
Or the moon

The village was off the road
And away from the world
Like a soft breeze
Blowing across the ground
Felt only by the Earth
At the bottom of the mountain
That calls it home

The beauty of the place
Equaled by the difficulties
Surrounding this life
Filled with the noise of natural things-
The pounding of grain like thunder,
Roosters crowing at every mood of the sun,
Fires crackling with ancient memories,
Children laughing and disappearing into tall grasses

And almost every night
The sound of a bilaphone
Playing at a fete somewhere
On another side of the village
Sending out a deep and hyper sound
That somehow found its way to me
Even in the thick, dark air of Africa

People dressed in bright fabrics
Were dancing until the dirt stirred
Into a fog around them
And all that was hard about the days
Trickled down their faces
In sweat like tears

I could see them in my mind
As I lay in a room lit quietly by candles
My book resting next to me
While I joined them somewhere
In that fog of dirt and freedom

Freedom for muscles
That were bent and tired
From hours spent in the fields
And freedom from a mind
That was never allowed to forget
The weightless breath of fate
Waiting in the wind

Returning Again

Every meal of everyday
A memory of the one before
Rising from a mat on the ground
To pull water from a well
To carry home in a metal bucket
On her head
She may be used to it
But that doesn’t mean that metal
Is somehow less hard to her
On her body
As she cooks
Over a smoky fire
Bent over now and still
Hours later bent
In a field of intimidating size
Her hands are losing skin
To the wooden handle
Of her only tool
Swung up into the air
And brought back down
Into the soil
This act her livelihood
Her only hope of income
She returns home
As the sun sets over her field
And bends to cook
Before returning again
To her mat on the dirt


    If the world were a body
    Africa would be the eyes
    In the knowledge of things that have been
    Of life's truest tests and most intense beauty
    If the world were a body
    The western world would be the hands
    With the capacity
    Of an uplifting generosity
    These eyes of wisdom
    And hands of generosity
    Can create balance,

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