“The old voice of the ocean, the bird-chatter of little rivers,
(Winter has given them gold for silver
To stain their water and bladed green for brown to line their banks)
From different throats intone one language.
So I believe that if we were strong enough to listen without
Divisions of desire and terror
To the storm of the sick nations, the rage of the hunger-smitten cities,
Those voices also would be found
Clean as a child’s; or like some girl’s breathing who dances alone
By the ocean-shore, dreaming of lovers.”
Robinson Jeffers, Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems (New York: Horace Liveright, 1925), p. 232
A wind blows over an oil tanker in the North atlantic. A man sits at a desk inside one of the cabins, studying a map. A corner without a paperweight is lifted and folds over his busy hands. The wind twists and continues east, out the porthole.
It speeds over the ocean and reaches land, interacting with an array of life. It finds a man in his peanut field at 11am, and, feeling generous, gives a strong cool breeze to wipe the sweat from his brow. It finds his young wife en route to their family’s garden to till and wash clothes in the adjacent river and seeing she has recently birthed twins and seeing how much she misses them it helps her dry her laundry with haste. Having helped so much the wind grows mischievous again and blows the scent of ripening eggplant into the noses of 20 cattle and stokes a fire threatening to eat a neighboring community’s garden.
The wind continues on its path. Tired, it stops interacting and strolls into an observatory meander. It finds field after field of peanuts and corn, cotton and rice. In the nights it finds people dancing, sleeping, talking and baking. Those dirty from a days work pulling weeds, cutting firewood, harvesting, planting, or watering; driving great mortars into giant pestles, handling babies or cooking food, fetch buckets of well-water and shower and brush their teeth. People refuel on the days’ labor: lacciri, a cous-cous like corn dish and beans and occasionally bread. In the mornings people wake with their roosters and warm up to a tea-based cup of Nescafe with powdered milk and sugar.
The sun rises and work commences and the wind grows bored; today looks much like yesterday. Funneling around two steep, rocky plateaus the wind flirts and swirls and feels rather frivolous but stops suddenly at a new sight. Bright white skin. Bright white skin and a notebook full of well made lined paper. Curious, the wind investigates.
Two hours north of guinea it finds a young man sitting on a rock next to a mud oven with a journal in his lap and pen in his hand, not so much writing as he is staring. Craving his story, the wind flips his pages, many half-filled, and reads:
“…saw the variable flow of traffic like a stream through drought and flood; ebb and flow; the unfinished block architecture of Mermos, Darkar; the flat shadows of dusk that wash the corners of the world into gloom….
“On Gorré Island there is a slave house, thankfully now an ex-slave house, and I had a profound experience there….
“There’s a huge potential in the youth of America, the youth of the world, but it’s so largely untapped. I think if….
“How do people activate….?
“Anyway, I ripped his shorts and he won three times more than I did in the sand in the corner of….
“We chatted about small nothings.
“Pardon me, the day ran away.
“Why? Would that marginalize me?
“Today I cried when my dear brother pointed at the dirt and said, maniacally and smirking, ‘This is where the money is, he he he,’ afterwards erupting into laugher. Why did I cry? Was it because I was sad that money is gripping life way out here, corrupting like I’ve seen it do in the ‘States? Was I sad because it’s quite likely that that dirt doesn’t contain enough money for the tuition of this program and that that discrepancy of wealth will always create a disconnect in our understanding of one another? No. It is for none of those reasons, the first of which isn’t even true, that I cried. I cried because when Bassirou tossed that joke up in the air it wasn’t just a cunning giggle or two that we exchanged but pieces of our hearts….
“Spending days making molasses towers and nights memorizing their shape….
“He’s a good friend to have but some days….
“Some days I’m so busy I don’t have time to think of home and on those days Segou, Senegal, invades me and takes me for its own. I go willingly.
“I poop in a hole.
“Wait! I’m having another existential crisis!
“And so every Tuesday….
“My point is this: that the most important things….”
The wind finished. And more than what was on the page, it noticed that which wasn’t. Having understood this boy and having seen that he, too, was just a lost traveler, the wind turned and breezed north to the arid lands there; it turned its back to the boy.
I am a generous narrator and will tell you what the boy wrote; what the wind didn’t wait to see.
He wrote: “The wind ruffled my pages and I saw flash before me not ages but snippets and snaps of a journey yet passed. The things I’ve written and things I haven’t all sputtered and stuttered like the flame of a candle illuminating vaguely some curdling current beneath the cracks; an everyday wind in an everyday sail that slaps and smacks and threatens man’s handle on the shape of his life. It blows through hay and it blows through bale and worst of all it blows through hate and it blows through strife. But so too does it blow through all tales: of hope and love and bone-dull knives; loyal, committed husbands and wives who know their children have dreams too and give them heart to follow through.”
He stood, leaving his writing on the ground, stepped into the oven-room, and resumed kneading.