Brazil

 

I will begin with braces

strung across a man's teeth

like a downed kite might

string itself across four lanes

of a seven lane highway

and bid a barefooted child

to wade into evening traffic

and slip. I will not focus

on the wasp at the window,

the cat's white hair stretching

along this orange peel,

or even the train's green breath,

its asthmatic clack

upon these arthritic tracks

that turn every head

into a cautious metronome. No,

I will not focus upon the spine

of the men walking these rails,

yelling cerveja, coca-cola, agua,

these men who bear no resemblance

to ghosts but even as they pass

disappear into motes

of dust most of us are too busy

to notice falling

inside a sleeping child's mouth.

I will focus all of my attention,

now, on the man with braces,

asking me if I am a member of the C.I.A.

Have I come to infiltrate

the Black movement.

This man who I have peeled

two oranges for

since this train left Rio de Janeiro

and, because his hands were full,

placed each quartered wedge

in his mouth. What are you here for?

The children waiting for bottles

of water to be thrown from each car.

The bee above his head, the kites

drifting from the hills, the white puffs

of cloth, slew-footed, wading into the sky

like a wasp drunk on insecticide.

Those are suicide notes, he says, the kites.

Soon there will be gunfire,

drugs, and dead children head to foot

along the paved and unpaved roads

leading in and out of this favela.

Do you have this in America?

This, meaning kites. This, meaning

children. This, meaning winter rain

unable to flow into the gutters

because of bodies lining the streets.

I think to tell him of Katrina,

but I say nothing of water-

melon vines growing around the dark

and dead, an un-hoed road

of children my uncle has left

in graves from North Carolina to New Jersey,

the bomb, M.O.V.E., the symphony

hall of atrocities in which every seat is full,

but is this the meaning of Diaspora?

I come with the dead tucked in-

to my duffle, my genocides

folded into my wallet and you

come with yours and we shout

across the chasm of this train car

comparing whose dead sings louder

or more often or now.

Is this Africa: a split trench

and a split lip, a photograph

of a police chief smoking a cigar

as the ear of a dead child catches his ash.

Why isn't my hand

dropping these slices of orange

onto your tongue, Diaspora?

Why have I come to Brazil, Brother?

To infiltrate the Black movement.

 

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