Spring 2024

Shrine Keeper is Trapped in Owl’s Nest

by Baba Badji

Shrine Keeper is trapped in a body hanged in baobab. It is not dead.
He was afraid to speak for acacia leaves & blown up secrets of shrine.
It is said he caused shame for villagers. Tribes drift with wind digging for them,
old memories. Villagers’ terrors! My God! He begged for his life. He was innocent?
Now, I wonder how to drag every baobab tree to a sacred place.
Cassava garden where I would want to be a witness & speak to Ghost Mother.

Before I swear for my village Shrine Keeper. How to extend my law of faith.
In a garden of last and holy flowers? The camels arrived to carry his body.
He wished to have three lungs. He burned all his crude desires.
It is said Shrine Keeper buried something under mosques & churchyards.
He warned me that death was coming. Prompt as a braking body.
Prompt as Ramadan month. Prompt as slave death.

Blue nightmares came to finish our history.
Shrine Keeper gone, all I had were my two eyes to cry.
It is said shrine keeper survive for long periods
Without food or drink. By using up blood reserves in his swellings.
Arrived to cut branches. Carried bread in a birdcage.
Witnessed evening sky crystallize into remains.

Bilay wallah it is said uncle Omar Mouhamed Cheikh licked his wounds.

Tapestry in Faith

Bilay wallah I want to tell you about nights at home in the Bronx.
A family evicted over aroma of Senegalese dish,

Ripening to ghost, Mother weeps as palm
Oil spreads its lines, in a saucepan.

Flamboyant smells linger on halls.
I mean flamboyant African smell lingered.

Months on & on & on.
Mr. Williams, our American landlord, nagged
At my stepmother about smells & rent.

My stepmother was pregnant with Salimata,
What seems after all to have been progress.

Is there anything more wonderful?
Than vines growing to snakes,
Beside long rivers & owls
taking flight to do work at night?

Sitting somewhere public. Maybe in New York City,
I come close to cry out for Senegal city vista.

Ghost Mother’s perfume inside my childhood,
My stepmother abandoned & now so difficult to trace.

If I come from a sacred village, the deaf Shrine Keeper
Knows my song. Maybe I’ll be ready

To grieve in Dakar, maybe it is alright to be afraid.
Billay wallah life in America is a collection of flamingo’s graves.

Baba Badji is a Senegalese-American poet, translator, researcher, and a PhD in Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. His research interests center on postcolonial literature and theory, with a particular focus on debates surrounding the poetry, criticism, and translation of Négritude writing in Anglophone and Francophone cultures. He is fluent in French, Wolof, Mending, and Diola. Ghost Letters, a book-length lyric sequence scheduled for publication on January 1, 2021, with Parlor Press and Free Verse Editions. His work has appeared in Europe NowFree Verse EditionsTransverse JournalSnapdragon JournalFoothill Journal, and works are forthcoming elsewhere.  

Spring 2024