Its been a long journey

Its been a long journey, this
Moving endlessly
In circles
Leaving no visible footprints
Watching bridges melt before my eyes
I had learnt to swim
And swam across rainbow rivers
At the first border
Palpable fear surfaced
The beat of my heart too loud
Too fast
Sweat pumping out

Once across I became another person
Split between time
A before and a then
A stranger in a land of bright colours
Undulating mountains
A language that expressed itself with
The slowness of eternal leisure

I became a stranger-who-felt-at-home
I learnt the language and to laugh
In the music of the river

Winds heralding
An inversion of power came blowing
I was in there in the throng,
Adding my voice to
the Get Out Movement
I dreamt dreams of a life of free wrists and ankles
Unchained voices becoming a chain
Of resonant meaning

In that lustrous land of winter sunshine
Cries and machine-gun-fire
Starting to torment us
Echoes of cries within our eardrums
Bursts of hurt feelings in our hearts
Streams of rumbling blood that tug at us
To cross the border once more forever to do or die

By bullet
And sniffer dogs

Because of this
I was no longer the stranger that-felt-at-home
Because my host
Was visited by cold fear brought by hot winds
From across the border
I understood the fear, embraced discretion to
Become at home
Up North I crossed borders
Chose the darkest spots in unknown lands
Occasionally travelling in circles crossing a border
Thrice in an attempt to breathe free
Once I met the Makonde who had traded
Mallets and chisels for AK47s

They carried me on their backs
Across another border
Once more I became Mukimbisi, a stranger
This time it was said without malice
Instantly I was-at-home

I carved with the Makonde
Heard the Shetani spirit sing in myriad voices

A tourist, a Nixon-look-a-like demanded
An authentic carving full of wild spirits
When he was told about these spirits
He changed his mind and asked for a ‘different spirit’
An old sculptor asked him to come the following
Week and his spirit will be ready
The spirit came in a carving of a man whose mouth was open
His tongue a snake with a forked tongue
Whose body traversed the body of the man
Its tail emerged as a giant phallus
The Nixon look-a-like loved it

My problems began
A new set of problems
‘tourist art’?
This was not a crafty piece polished to death
Nor a repetition of a pattern
Years later someone threw a word
Across my bow, ‘para-tourist’ art!

Thoughts of home
Feelings of nostalgia
I became a ‘para-man’
A complex amalgam of desires and expressions

I travelled from South-North-East-West
A connoisseur of cultures and attitudes
Always seeking a way to BE-AT-HOME

It has been a long journey, this endless movement
Across frontiers of meaning
If I wrote it all
As it is or was my story would read
Like a myth

I gather my displaced feelings
Into a bundle, when it burst I carve
Images of wrestlers wrestling with themselves
A critic said
I hallucinate visually
Well critics…….

In Dar-es-Salaam, I swim in the Indian Ocean
I dry myself at Oyster bay
The vast blueness of the sea seduces me
I do not think of its betrayal of my people
Allowing foreign ships to sail on it

In Kenya I witness the betrayal of a people
Dedan Kimathi
I am jostled off the streets of Nairobi by a throng of
Some of them from Dalston, Hackney

In Mombasa they call me a communist
With twisted faces, as if I have neo-colonised
A nation
There I do not find robust artworks
Like I did in Tanzania and Mozambique

Lagos, Africa’s New York they like to say without
I see a Mercedes Benz shoot through the streets
Its passengers
Eight people, a goat, a sheep and several fowl
A surreal picture in the flesh
Everyone calls me a stranger
Desires to liberate me from my coloniser
Even those who oppress their fellow countrypeople
Speak vigorously of my freedom

Senegal, dogged by beggars
Hawkers flogging the latest Ray Ban glasses
And Sony DVD players

I retreat to Goree
The embarkation hell for thousands of my people
Setting sail in enforced droves
The Indian Ocean at its best
Calm, rippling slowly against the setting sun
Children recite the history of the island with
Lack-lustre zeal

We witness the invasion from a cast of players
Who use the island for a stage
Suddenly everybody rises
To sing the American National Anthem!

I flee to New York
I was there at the birth of Conceptualism
But didn’t know until later
I drank wine with pregnant mothers
But didn’t see the pregnancies
I was too busy being African, you know!

Now I am back home
Tracing the beginning of my footprints
Seeing denied desires resurface
Tracing new avenues of communication
In the dark labyrinth of the creative act
Seeing black silenced voices
Begin to speak with stutters

I rejoin an ever-fluid flow of
My umbilical cord
As generations of hyenas gather
To greet the arrival of the goddess
Of my heart
The woman whose pulsations of heart
And mind
Mirrors my own
Together, once more, we trace
The scent of my invisible footprints
In moments of complexity