By Yusef Komunyakaa
An Afro-Cuban plea guards over heart
& head, that old rugged cross-tree
of the South in the tropical air of Cuba,
but it would take years in Madrid,
then Matisse, & a daily dreaming
of Paris before Wifredo Lam
painted himself in a floral kimono,
echoes of war tangled in his brushes,
before he could bring himself to half-see
those watchful polymorphic figures
in gouache on Kraft paper glued
to cloth canvas smooth as second skin.
He said, “When I am not asleep, I dream.”
The land grew whole by brushstrokes,
an uproar of growth pruned back
to vantage point, the first time I faced
The Jungle, big as a double door
to a secret realm. I close my eyes
to step into vegetable silence, living
designs triangulated, into a kingdom
of spirit totems in bamboo, sugarcane,
tobacco leaves, & double-headed limbo
growing one with the other, caught
in a love fever of three worlds, a path
to the other side, hidden from the sun,
relying on conjured light in a blue-green
season, pelting the ground with seeds.
Did the “W” in his name etch the first
winged symbol as indigenous signs
& masks rooted in black soil?
Breasts, buttocks, & terrestrial mouths
laugh in the greenery—we onlookers
see magic we cannot face in ourselves,
reasoned beyond our own mortality
enriching the wet-green profusion
wild within itself & what cries out,
seeped in ceremonial lamentation.
Tall figures hold sharpened shears
as if shaping footsteps out of foliage,
gazing into a future, these maroons
masked by zodiacs in their leafy hideout,
a rhythm of breathing architecture.
A slew of bluish incantations erupt
in carved silence, unwoven trance,
& these elongated, slantwise warriors
& seers, the other side, hidden from us
in daylight, interwoven & multiplied,
peer out of camouflaged revelation.
He drew questions out of shapes,
rooting shadows to the roaming mind,
& this makes me take another step.
Exiled, but not from his homeland,
orishas tiptoed back into CoBrA’s
inner sanctum. Vodun & Santeria
followed him to Marseille, still
orangery-red touches of Caribbean
sunlight on the skin of his figures.
Though once in a cabaret on La Rue Vavin
he heard “I put a spell on you,”
& a smile broke across his face.