Rising with the night wind,
Legba’s misused servant sculls her insubstantial boat
across the jagged template of the swamp
looking for a sign, a water mark of Li Grand Zombi,
His serpent Self fat with knowledge
she must borrow, somewhere in the black night.
The humming song on her peach lips
is deep with the umber pulse of Africa,
in a language no one knows here. It
builds magic out of bondage, grows charms
from fear and want, weapons from shed blood
that turn against the holding hand.
The gris-gris sack around her neck
ties the struggling spirit to her body
for the will to fight is strongest after all;
it chills the child away from her womb,
the child she can’t keep or bring herself
to give her master
no matter how often he comes
like a levee breaking in the muddy dark,
hard fingers prying her open like a mussel,
her wide mouth thin as a knifepoint,
tongue tied tight as a noose.
It’s not easy to get what she needs
here in this mad confining place, but
what the heart desires long enough,
strong enough the body will do.
So she finds it all, here and there, from
the rummy sailors off the ships stinking of death,
or from the altar boy she bribes with her breasts
for stolen pieces of the holy wafer.
She mashes the small bones of a lizard
caught by a seventh son
in a graveyard
under a full moon
and all the other secret things,
and stirs them together
with a broken crucifix
as she chants
the Lord’s prayer
and older prayers in her honey voice,
calling the spirits,
so much closer to her
than the white face of God,
so much more likely to care.
She croons to the Snake of heaven and earth
softly like a lover and
under her bed she puts her careful curse
perfect in a bag slung round the neck
of the soft doll with the lock
of yellow hair.
On that black night of endless nights,
blowing into the hut like a lost storm,
the master is surprised and pleased
to see for the first time
she is smiling
really smiling at him.
Image: Another Thorny Crown, painting by Margaret Bowland