Thursday, February 1, 2018

Remembering Malawi

While I've always considered myself a prose writer, and haven't taken great pains to study poetry, I've enjoyed writing a poem every now and then. In case you enjoy reading poetry, I'm sharing one I wrote a few months ago about growing up in Africa.

Remembering Malaลตi 

When I remember my childhood 
It is the sounds that come first –  

How the muezzin’s call to prayer wafted over the city at dusk 
In long and exotic notes as if the singer were casting a spell 
Even the dogs would stop their barking to listen 
I had the sense then that I was wrapped in a prayer that  
Did not, could not belong to me 

The beat of drums sometimes carried across the hills  
And at night as I lay in bed the bass woulecho down to my fingertips  
In some way my young self could not have put into words 
I knew then that my home was not, and could never be my own 

Wherever we went the low hum of a Bantu language hung in the air  
Even English was peppered with it  katunduzikomopang’ono pang’ono 
The Americans who had lived there longest spoke in slow peaks and valleys  
As if their speech had caught the flavor of Africa 
Even now long for a musical language that was never mine to speak 

Thirty years I’ve been back in the country of my birth 
And still I am called back to my childhood by a sound –  
The cooing of mourning doves, the lowing and tramp of cattle 
Or it may be another sense –  
purple flowered vine climbing fence, the smell of wood smoke 
A cloud of dust rising from a dirt road or the sweetness of a mango 

Not so long ago, I heard Bantu hum in the grocery store 
And turned to see a woman in a kaftan speaking with her children  
She was inspecting yams and her cart was filled with familiar African foods  
Heaps of collard greens and ears of corn still in their husks 
And I wondered if a crest of homesickness ever came over her 
Ishe sometimes felt immersed in a world that wanot her own 

Did she sometimes long to be away from the rumble of never-ending traffic 
From the clean and clipped tones of English where speakers rush to their point 
Did she, as I do, dream of returning to a place with a little wildness 
meandering and lyrical place 
TAfrica, a place that was never more home 


  1. This made me homesick for a place I've never been.

  2. Moni, Rachel.
    What an awesome poem.
    Ah, the fond memories of a young life in Malawi.

  3. Replies
    1. You’re welcome! Thanks for reading, Cassian.