in the Congo basin
Children crack palm nuts milked of fats,
stripped of orange. They smack
nuts on rocks, split out the kernel of ndika,
chew the smooth flesh and spit
a festive spray of whitest white,
———like the sudden flash of teeth
———like the morning star against the night.
When I say “children” I include myself.
A woman taught me to hang and dry
the thick-ridged skins of makembe bananas.
The peels turned black. I burnt them to ash.
I pretend no knowledge
as to the colour scheme of godliness
when orange palm nuts with black hearts
splinter into speckled white in our saliva,
———when yellow makembe peels dry darkly
———and blue-orange flames lick them into gray ash,
when I pour the ash into thick orange palm oil
and pound a black soap, slimy and sudsy,
dark and clean. In this fast-spinning kaleidescope
of colour, which shall we call the cleanliest?
So then. Wash me with black soap, and I shall be
lathered in this wisdom of a woman who labours
to blend the thick fats and soft ash and bends
the startling contrasts of this creation into cleansing.