Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Drinking Senegalese Tea with Mint after a Visit to the Slave House of Gorée Island

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 87, No. 1 (Spring 2013)

(May 24, 2012, Dakar, Senegal, West Africa)
for Idrissa Diakhaté

This is what I said I wouldn’t do:

let a West African man court me.
Attempt to make him comprehend
my confusion of languages and flavors:

I am not a mulatto.
I am the daughter of two Black Americans—
who both are the children

of two Black Americans
and so on in Biblical manner.
(Who am I to disturb the lie?)

Africa is not my motherland—
Gorée Island is the reason.
I am an unruly Sister who does not curtsy

as traditional Senegalese women do.
Or cover my head, not because I don’t
know the customs of the country

but because patois is an ache
of history and I want everybody
to hurt like me.

Home should remain an absence—
but days later, when he croons,
Nopenala, ma cherie. Namenala, my sweety,

I will answer that I love
and I miss him as well.
I give back what was taken,

I suppose.

The night he made thé Sénégalais
for me on the front porch of my hotel,
a man moved his motorcycle

to allow me to see the ocean
and I thanked him to be polite,
though I don’t like to watch accidents.

Three other men came
and sat beside us,
playing at cards and chaperones.

My soon-to-be lover’s hands moved fast,
pouring from one glass to the other.
Jaam rek, he said. Jaam rek only—

and he was beautiful,
and already, kidnapping what was left
of my ancestral anger,

and I did not say, there’s no peace
and never will be.
Home was where the basement

of water held my kin.
The same ocean gambled
with an ancient set of bones.