Birago Diop – Diptych

The Sun hung by a thread
In the depths of the Calabash dyed indigo
Boils the great Pot of Day.
Fearful of the approach of the Daughters of fire
The Shadow squats at the feet of the faithful.
The savannah is bright and harsh
All is sharp, forms and colours.
But in the anguished Silences made by Rumours
Of tiny sounds, neither hollow nor shrill,
Rises a ponderous Mystery,
A Mystery muffled and formless
Which surrounds and terrifies us.
The dark Loincloth pierced with nails of fire
Spread out on the Earth covers the bed of Night.
Fearful at the approach of the Daughters of Shadow
The dog howls, the horse neighs,
The Man crouches deep in his house.
The savannah is dark,
All is black, forms and colours
And in the anguished Silences made by Rumours
Of tiny sounds infinite or hollow or sharp
The tangled Paths of the Mystery
Slowly reveal themselves
For those who set out
And for those who return.

Birago Diop – Breaths

Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees,
It is our forefathers breathing.

The dead are not gone forever.
They are in the paling shadows,
And in the darkening shadows.
The dead are not beneath the ground,
They are in the rustling tree,
In the murmuring wood,
In the flowing water,
In the still water,
In the lonely place, in the crowd:
The dead are not dead.

Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees.
It is the breathing of our forefathers,
Who are not gone, not beneath the ground,
Not dead.

The dead are not gone for ever.
They are in a woman’s breast,
A child’s crying, a glowing ember.
The dead are not beneath the earth,
They are in the flickering fire,
In the weeping plant, the groaning rock,
The wooded place, the home.
The dead are not dead.

Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees.
It is the breathing of our forefathers.

Birago Diop -Viaticum

In none of the three jugs
The three jugs where on certain evenings return
the tranquil souls,
the breaths of the ancestors,
the ancestors who were men,
the ancestors who were sages,
Mother has dipped three fingers
three fingers of her left hand:
thumb, forefinger and middle finger

David Mandessi Diop – Vultures

In that time
When civilization struck with insults
When holy water struck domesticated brows
The vultures built in the shadow of their claws
The bloody monument of the tutelary era
In that time
Laughter gasped its last in the metallic hell of roads
And the monotonous rhythm of Paternosters
Covered the groans on plantations run for profit
O sour memory of extorted kisses
Promises mutilated by machine-gun blasts
Strange men who were not men
You knew all the books you did not know love
Or the hands that fertilize the womb of the earth
The roots of our hands deep as revolt
Despite your hymns of pride among boneyards
Villages laid waste and Africa dismembered
Hope lived in us like a citadel
And from the mines of Swaziland to the heavy sweat of  Europe’s factories
Spring will put on flesh under our steps of light.

Birago Diop – Vanity

VANITY
If we tell, gently, gently
All that we shall one day have to tell,
Who then will hear our voices without laughter,
Sad complaining voices of beggars
Who indeed will hear them without laughter?
If we roughly of our torments
Ever increasing from the start of things
What eyes will watch our large mouths
Shaped by the laughter of big children
What eyes will watch our large mouth?
What hearts will listen to our clamoring?
What ear to our pitiful anger
Which grows in us like a tumor
In the black depth of our plaintive throats?
When our Dead comes with their Dead
When they have spoken to us in their clumsy voices;
Just as our ears were deaf
To their cries, to their wild appeals
Just as our ears were deaf
They have left on the earth their cries,
In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs
For us blind deaf and unworthy Sons
Who see nothing of what they have made
In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs
And since we did not understand the dead
Since we have never listen to their cries
If we weep, gently, gently
If we cry roughly to our torments
What heart will listen to our clamoring,
What ear to our sobbing hearts?

Senegalese folktale poet Birago Diop 1906-1989 educated in Dakar and related tales of the wolof people