A Writer Writes

5 Poems from West Africa by Carrie Young (Mali 2000–01)

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,


          The lantern made
          A light creaking noise
          As it swung by my side
          On a walk through the village
          Of red mud and grass
          That was a labyrinth
          Lost somewhere in time
          Thousands of years ago
          I don't remember
          If I walked in the light of the moon
          Or in the darkness
          When I came upon
          The orange glow of candles
          Coming from a room with walls
          That would fall in the rain
          There was a woman laid back
          On an old bamboo chair
          Giving birth in the center of the room
          In the center of the ancient village,
          In the center of Africa
          And what felt like the
          Very center of time itself

    The Shadowless Light of Memory

          She saw a leaf leave the tree
          And float down away
          From the perfect blue sky
          In the white light of the day
          A kind of shadowless light
          Painting itself on all sides of the leaf
          She quietly watched
          Until it landed in her palm
          Lightly, the way memories
          Fell onto her mind
          Like those of Africa
          Of the people's eyes
          As if constellations
          Lived in them
          Shooting stars, twinkling stars,
          Night skies filled with stars
          Were the people's eyes
          And at times
          The stars became veiled
          As if behind a cloud
          Until the storm passed
          And the stars shone once again
          In the clear sky
          Of their eyes
          The shining backdrop
          Of the memories
          That fell like leaves
          Onto her mind

      Carrie Young lived in a small, rural village of Mali without electricity or running water. She is inspired by the effect that living so close to the natural world had on her, and wants to share the beauty and reality of that experience with others. She also feels that it is her responsibility to tell the story of the people of her village who took her in like family and generously shared their lives and souls with her.
           After the Peace Corps Carrie spent a season living and working in the south of France, and then worked as a researcher for National Geographic Magazine from 2002–2004. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in creative writing.