Imagining Africa by Jessica Covil

The land is more than soil
Has to be. What are you otherwise?
—you, the uprooted
who have lived without that soil for generations
but still feel its hold on you
stronger than the slave ship.
You dream the land like a lover, believing
she is not the same without you.

Say it like a prayer.
You fall on your knees
and lift up your request
to multiple gods.
You are unsure which will listen.
Christ is the cross you would die on
but Christians enslaved you.
Iron in the palms of your hands
or encircling your wrists
in the blood that is both yours and His
—that forced inheritance.
Or maybe this iron was yours to begin with
That unbreakable stuff you’re made of
making you stand up straight
like Man does
up strong
like a Man does
You write this in so many stanzas
you say it in your sleep

White men have planted false doctrines
in your skin
cut row crops in your back
like you are the land
like you are the soil
dark and fertile
The means of production.
Modernity feels like
you are a walking plantation
Look at what Man does
naming you Woman

So you take back God
like a coup
Strong-arm Heaven
to prove you still have fight in you
and meekness is a virtue
but it’s tiresome waiting.
God’s Might is a wonder,
wonder if God might intercede on your behalf
might send down a host of heavenly angels
with some swords you could count on.
You wonder, too
if we are all God’s children,
why it’s just you
who’s treated like an unruly thing
in need of discipline
the white man playing Father
pretending at salvation.
They bury you in the earth
just to call you

So you reclaim “Father” too
and call it Africa
wanting to bear its name
wanting to have some other inheritance
than the one you’ve been branded with
Wanting to have what’s yours
to take back the soil,
you stolen from it
it stolen from you

And yet
the very name makes you throw your head back
jaw drop when you call on
you say it like a sigh
overcome with desire
but you don’t like feeling weak.
You decide
she must be the one
in need of saving
she is waiting
stretch your roots down deep

It is hard to
pin down
what it is about her
that slips through your fingers
Who could imagine
soil this free.
Claimed by so many men
and never paid for,
must be easy.

But how to explain
the way you wake up
with her scent tickling your nose
feeling the way she curves
to meet this body of yours
wherever it falls
How you just want
to settle it
once and for all
to make her worthy of the pleasure
but finally, to please her.

From this side of the ocean
it is always a paradox.
The way the tide pulls you violently in
and gives you back
the waves embracing the shore
if only to recede again.
This desperate act of love

makes you cry out:

This is light
This is love
This is loss