Leopoldville, Belgian Congo
The house by the river
Where he slept on a mat beside her bed
Barely older than she but a chasm between
He could not protect her from the dangers inside.
The native servants perfusing the Blacks’ comfortable White home
Did not shield them from disaster.
The commonality of the tribal quotidian grief brought incarnate
Into this foreigners' household whose vulnerability lay within its heart.
Will I ever know what truly happened
To my lost chance of sisterhood
With my unmet aunt who will remain forever two and a half years young?
Crocodiles or fever, those are the choices allowed me.
Or will the absence of a story haunt me
As it did my grande-mere in her colonial castle
Which did not last
And was never what she sought.
Her trip to Africa aboard the steamer
Was to find something beyond her ordinary fate
To settle upon a place where she could escape her feminine limits.
But love and motherhood drew her back to the real, inexorable imperilment.
The Congo wafted into her ready imagination
The receptive Liegoise seduced by the promise of independence and adventure.
Liberation from traditions which could only shrink her heady dreams.
She found herself free to find darker truths in a new continent.
In Leopold’s purloined region of infinite taking
Which Conrad captured in his frightening prose
She lost herself, as did so many.
Making her kin with the captured others, misled without ever leaving their home.
Belgian nurses of the Congo