It Took Me - reflections on Mozambique


As I continue to think about poetry during National Poetry Month my thoughts keep coming back to a time when I studied more poetry than any other time in my life. Back in 2009, I went to Mozambique to teach english and study Mozambique literature and culture. We spent many an hour reading and discussing the poets and poems of Mozambique in and around the very places where they wrote.

In this incredible country, the people love and revere their poets. Writing and reading poetry is seen as an honorable and normal activity which, in my experience, differs greatly than how we Americans in general perceive poetry. It was refreshing to study the poetry of a people who love their poets like we love our great presidents, social activists, and agile athletes.  

The following is a poem that came as a result of reflecting on my time in Mozambique this last week. Even after all these years, I feel its influence on me and how I will never be the same because of my time there. This poem tries to convey a summary of sorts of my experience in Mozambique with its amazing people and culture. 

It Took Me

The metal bird took me as far as it could
before it would start to take me back
Somewhere between the stale air and thin blankets
it took me from earth

It took me to different stars, different skins,
to cities of cement, cities of reeds

It took me to kanimambo* and crowded classrooms
to fields (where I would have been the master)
to be the student
It took me to eyes still fresh from conflict, roads still broken by ignorance,
a system not to be healed by revolution

It took me to barred windows and mosquito nets
to dust fogged roads and new commutes
to truck beds, cozy chapas*, the confusion of strangers

It took my tongue to new angles
my ears to new metrics
my eyes to their illiteracy

It took me to survival
to muffler trees and toilet paper hawkers
to negotiations, persistent pleas,
the knowledge of my abundance

It took me to Malangatana, Couto, Honwana*
to metaphor, simile, and symbols
to those that killed the mangy dog*
to the sleepwalking earth*

It took me away from our shame
our fear of freedom, our containers of concern
It took me to where if you want to dance, you dance
want to sing, you sing
If you want to jump, laugh, clap, grin,
you don’t wait

It took me and shook me
and I hope I never come back

Kanimambo - "thank you" in Changana, a bantu language spoken in southern Africa

Chapas – vehicles similar to VW buses used as a common form of public transportation  

Malanganta – famous Mozambique painter and poet whose studio we got to tour. He wasn’t there but his wife called him on the phone and I got to talk to him. Pretty rad. He passed away in 2011.

Couto – Mia Couto is a famous Mozambique writer whom I met. See photo below of where he signed one of his poems for me. His novel entitled Terra Sonâmbula - Sleepwalking Earth - is referenced above. His official site is in Portuguese so here is a link to an article from The Guardian if you want to learn more. 

Honwana – Luís Bernardo Honwana another Mozambique writer best known for his collection of short stories called Nós matamos o cão-tinhoso – We Killed Mangy Dog – referenced above.

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