Peace Corps Writers
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Poems

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The Fallen Man

The Volunteer kneels on the hot sand
and feels for the pulse of a fallen man.
A wind gust carries the stench of dead
fish and flesh from the river.
He sponges blood from a deep gash
beneath the man’s gray hair.

A tall, lanky man — black hair tangled
with strands snaking from his skull,
his eyes deep cavities, a ragged shirt
hanging from his washboard torso —
raises a machete and advances,
his companions urging him on.

The Volunteer cradles the fallen man
and stares as thick crimson oozes
down his charcoal face like lava trails.
The eyes glaze slowly and close,
and he squeezes the Volunteer’s hand.
The grip loosens — the arms fall limp.

Peering far beyond the shriveled river,
across the parched savanna into a land
of mirages, the Volunteer barely hears
the Machete Man: “Do not interfere,
Batuuree. This is not your business.”
From spectators nearby only vacant stares.

Machete Man leaps and twirls in dance,
and the mob breaks out in frenzied cheers
when he slashes his weapon in the air,
the sun flashing off steel. He points
the tip of the blade straight ahead and says,
“You wish to join your brother?”

A car engine shifts gears, observers scurry
into stores, a highlife record blares
from across the street and vultures hover
above the dusty river bank, waiting,
while cattle with skin stretched tightly
over their bones, drink in slow motion.

The Sahara sandblasts the Volunteer’s face,
but he blocks the wind from the fallen man.
The Machete Man gathers his group together
and leads them down the road.The faint call
of a muezzin is carried away on the hot breeze.
The world pauses for a moment of silence.

African Tragedy
The Northland
Clumps of trees,
dwarfs with bony limbs
unable to hold up the vultures
circling in the pale blue sky,
dot the brown, flat dusty plain.
Beige haze from the Sahara
dulls the sunlight on the horizon.
Heat waves undulate into the air.
A cobra hides beneath a rock.
Men in mud huts plot.
The Son
A small-boned man,
several coats darker than the sand,
with a goatee that never grew,
wears pleated trousers
a size too large
and a white dress shirt,
the collar starched and frayed.
The young carpenter donates
his weekends to the Mission
teaching younger men his trade.
The Southland
I arrive in the twilight
on a muddy rain forest road.
Streaks from the setting sun
play hide-and-seek
with mahogany and iroko giants.
The forest calls to me:
birds cry out from tree tops
blending with sounds,
distinct — sounds
suspicious to untrained ears.
The Father
Dressed in green and blue oba
over his right shoulder,
he sits on a folding chair
next to the chest he built
when his son was his apprentice.
Traces of the son’s eyes
in the old man, large ovals
with heavy, drooping lids;
but eyes stripped naked
by a father’s fear.
The Night
In the small clearing
voices from around a fire,
a silhouette preparing food
by the light of a hurricane lamp.
Trees block the rising moon.
Orange light from fires
seeps into the darkening sky.
Directly overhead stars
begin to glow like
dull gaslights.
The Return
I carry the father’s message
for his son to come home.
But the compound is deserted —
broken furniture, scattered papers —
an overturned tool box —
shutters flapping casually
with a rare gust of wind —
stray mongrels picking at trash —
The stillness raises questions.
The absence answers.
Mallam Ibrahim
The Man
He stands at the brink,
coal-black eyes surveying.
In his beard, iron gray
streaks betray his years.
His skin suggests Mediterranean
rather than his sub-Saharan home.
From his thin lips come
rhythms rounded by Harvard
and Oxford degrees.
The Land
Mallam Ibrahim recalls
water wells, deep beneath
the creepy sands, a land
airborne on winter winds,
long months of naked earth,
its skin cracked by lack
of nourishment from the
sand-screened sky, dried
by the Saharan sun.
The Teacher
He begins at the brink of time,
with stories of the Olduvai Gorge
and the Koi-San Eve of DNA. He
pushes ahead into the mainstream
with Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca,
and punctures the artery with tales
of Goree, Calabar, and Elmira.
He soars to the break of tomorrow,
to prophesy and restoration.
The Mind
A mind is indeed an enchanting thing
that can stir up debris from Plato
and integrate Locke and Nkrumah,
that can pick apart Jefferson’s credo
and splinter the theories of Marx.
Then, like a trapeze artist the Mallam
defies gravity and flings himself
into Picasso’s debt to African art
and music as the universal heart.

Tony Zurlo’s poetry and short fiction have appeared in dozens of print and online journals, including recent issues of Red River Review, November 3rd Club, Open Window, All Info About Poetry, VerbSap, Humdinger, The Cynic, and Peace Corps Writers. He also has stories and poems appearing in future issues of Armageddon Buffet and Long Story Short.
     
Tony has also published books on Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Japanese Americans, West Africa, Algeria, and Syria. His Op-eds and reviews have appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Democrats.US, Democracy Means You, Peace Corps Writers, Online Journal, Writers Against the War, Dissident Voice, and OpEdNews.
     His newest book, The Legislative Branch: Creating America's Laws will be published in the spring 2007 by Enslow Publishers.

Credits for the published poems:

“One Night in Africa”
New Texas, 2002

“African Woman”
2000: Here’s to Humanity, People’s Press, 1999

“The Bent People”
Identity Theory, Winter 2005–06
Open Windows, 2006

“The Man Most Admired”
New Texas, 1998

“African Tragedy”
Cincinnati Poetry Review 19, Spring 1989

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