Thursday, January 28, 2010


In case you ever wanted to know how I got the email address: 'beninoise', I found this poem I wrote while in Benin. Not only did this experience inspire my email address, but it has inspired and fueled many a trip back to Africa until finally, Africa has become 'home.'


Nico dances
Dances in dust and sweat
Nico, careful,
Watching our pale skin redden
Beneath the unforgiving scorch of sun
Because his chocolate skin remains unscathed
Except for the glisten of his sweat

Nico is so serious
Seriously discussing our presence under shade of a baobab with Jon
Only Jon can communicate with him
Our French is elementary at best
But I watch from over here
In my cotton miu-miu
Just mindfully trying to mind-read
Or lip-read
Or just understand
I'm burning to understand

I slip into their circle of discussion
On a gnarled root beneath their shady baobab.
Jon is sympathetic
He is trying to let me in on them
But I am jealous
Because Nico dances
Dances in dust and sweat
And I can barely say 'hello.'

I decide then
I make a decision
I break away from the pale and red skin
Cautiously position myself; my smile in, around them
In and around the brown and black
Just me and them
No Jon to translate, or pale hand to hold
I play their drum in heat and dust
I sing their songs
The simple ones,
As sweat glistens on my face.
And I dance
Dance in dust and sweat
Laughter and noise
Nico dances too,
Nico smiles at me
Revealing a small space between two bright ivory teeth.
We dance
We sing
We drum
In dust and sweat and laughter and noise
Heart burning, bursting, burgeoning

I go back to pale hands, red faces
Smiling, satisfied

Nico dances
Dances in dust and sweat
And when I appear,
Nico smiles and dances a little for me
To make me laugh
To make me smile
Nico is not so serious
He flits about and laughs as we try to speak to each other
He watches and dances as I drum
Until we are all panting and glistening and heaving with joy
Pale-red and dark chocolate

Nico adopts me as one of them
Nico crowns me 'beninoise' like them
'Beninoise-Canadienne' he names me.
Everyone laughs
I laugh
But I want to cry
Or maybe clasp Nico's hand and dance some more
Until my feet fall off
Because at last I've been able to speak
I've spoken to Nico
We've talked
But I can barely say 'hello.'

I hope Nico is still dancing
In dust and sweat
Wherever he is,
I hope he never forgets

-April 16, 2002

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