A response to the Stradanus engraving of the Discovery of America, 1587
And you thought you had stumbled
into paradise — the word virgin on your lips, blind
to the giant kapok’s ancient life. Your arrival
has disturbed my dreaming, frightening
the anteater who’s been searching for worms all day.
Leave Amerigo, we are not a discovery.
I lie in my hammock, in my nakedness,
my nipples facing the sun. You cannot vanquish our bodies,
conquer our sky. Long before your god heard your
infant scream, our world has been unfolding. Long before
your dead walked across ice plains, five cycles
of our ancestors had traced the arc of the Sun,
mapped the constellation of the Seven Sisters,
traded with the Aruacs and the warriors of the sea, and held fire
with the Imams of Manden Kurufaba. Ah, now I see you
steering your attention to the left where an old mother
sits by a cliff…no, you are mistaken, if you think
she is roasting a man’s leg. If you think we eat
our own, it must be because you often chew
on the flesh of young girls. You cannot remain here, robed
and armed, holding a cross, boated with a crew of men
who are frothing at the mouth at the sight
of my tattoos. We have names for loam, roots, seeds
and the odour of petun. We have names
for the gates of the After-Life, for tears,
for bones and the air we breathe. So leave and do not fix
your Latin on our skins, our crops and our land. Amerigo,
take your flags, pennons, killing tools and language
far from here. Here, the seabeds are made
of deep gold you cannot grasp. So leave.
Leave before history engraves
your footprints on the souls of the unborn and wounds
the hearts of our diviners. My hallucinations, last night,
of blood and limbs splattered on the vines of the manchineels,
were warnings to my people. Leave before the fathers
and the husbands find you here and before
they adorn your brain with wild orchids,
bird feathers, to give you an exotic death.
Leave and let the pit vipers and marmosets work
their earth. The capuchins squealed, and my kinfolks
were squeamish when they saw you in the water, wading
through tides, cutting through thick ocean-mist —
they thought you were a ghost disguised
as a white god. One day your children will burn
our healers, brutalise our forests, if you do not remove
your feet from our shores. The mountains and the rivers
must inherit our children, while yours, if you leave now,
will inherit a stream of good fortune.
Tomorrow smells. Your hands reek
of savagery. Your water-vehicles will be stained in the blood
of manacled ankles. Have I moved you, Amerigo?
Are you mouthing the words— fero, veteris, inscius, simplex —
as you gaze at us? Do you not know of humanity?
There will be no earth after you are done with us.
Fero – savage; Veteris – primitive; Inscius – ignorant; Simplex –simple