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COPYRIGHT Poem-a-Day Collection by Knopf. Compilation copyright 2009 by Knopf. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Impressions of Africa
By Kenneth Koch
The back roads, if there are back roads Have gone to sleep Daggers have coughs on them And quoits have cures And doors have racking heat The sciences have beds with fevers.
1. MADAGASCAR. SUBCONTINENT
In the Hôtel Colbert, pronounced Coal-Bear In the bar I saw a big, pretty girl who looked like Lisa Behold a magazine a new life of women is about to appear I sat at my chocolat writing The sea-bird inviting And the Lisa-looking girl didn't smile or even look At me but soon she got out of there And she went walking Down the sidewalk-colored street not thinking of me Lisa-looking girl, come back! Give me or don't give me a little bit of ecstasy Help me to find the answer How long does life last?
The Acadé Malgache Is nothing Wearing my new pink suit Is nothing Wishing you were there Is nothing But nothing helps me out It helps me to see the lemurs In the pre- and post-restaurant air And in the time before I slide around in fear On the floor in a nightmare Which didn't happen in fact At the Hôtel Colbert.
Change my room! The fourteen-year-old Girl still a young Flower not yet Into the age Of her race And all characteristics Mops the fields With her hair In long tresses are They women, other, wear Green and orange dresses A man holding a rake Something To duel with a rice Paddy? or other field.
Where will it all end? In the Market, around this bend As I go down, my feet go down with me People are sitting lying standing end to end.
To be exploding, like a fiddle, outside of myself I am thinking on yellow roads of Madagascar I have been there Like a bird on a shell Or like the mountain coming down over that Sun sea shelf And like the chair yellow and pink and red That exists only in the head At the side of the seashell, in Madagascar
Which is not Africa, some say, It breaks away from Africa, just in time To preserve the lemurs A few hours later The lions came down And the apes came down From a bend at the top of Africa Rushed there by the climate Knowing it can't last Neither did Africa, Madagascar Left it, storm of red, Blue, yellow And rice paddies And villages with stone tombs left it With Polynesians coming to it left it And with the stone booths And the climatic exchange.
The Earthly Paradise—"Wait till I get there!" Once in Antananarivo, however, it seemed too far away (Forty kilometers by sea) and to take too long to get there. This island, drenched by perfume fragrances, boasts many cabanas, With paradise—where? A woman in Paris Told me about it. Ah! You are going to my country! there you will Find the paradise—an island That smells so sweetly They have the perfume-bearing trees that it is called Paradise, or Perfume Island. But in Gaboon, as in Zaire, they said when you get there Communist-government-ruined, ah you are Going to Madagascar! I had a fine, confused state Of mind about this subcontinental island state An East-Berlin gray broken-up boulevard mist Ambiance, and le paradis terrestre.
Tanarive centrale, there is a lake So choked with waterlilies That you would not believe It was not planned to be that way, to take You by the throat by its sudden beauty—unexpected, boaty, And plain—but then you can see It's a little messed up and and goaty Around the edges, after which it doesn't look the same When you drive by it on your way to the intersections.
In varied patterns you see them they vary And they are patterned Of the crops in the fields And the clothes of the men And the women and children In varying colors, patterns The automobile running It used to be a paradise Flesh but with unusual graces and with a "soul."
Dixebat Julie—nom correcte? mot juste? O Malagasy plumes! In the market so used Sumptuousness! She said (did) words Madagascar we feel thrown, we feel the thrown Stone one out here in the sea (she) (Didn't) (say it). I thought It, while she was going around And around helping me to buy jewelry, it was Getting dark, in the market. Here is a good stone, Says she, and a good price, too, I get on this one!
So much closer to me By big civilization compared To walkings of Brazza And even than the poets there! In a certain sense. Old hotel—of innocence. Gare Centrale—mammary of competence. And nerves under the hat.
Hard to get out of the restaurant Hard to stand up from the table and pay Hard to move quickly enough Through the arbiters gentlemen Unthreatening who have rather The mild excitingness which travel Gives to the un-noteworthy like a gun.