Alternate Take

by Kayombo Chingonyi

Alternate Take

When they laid our father out, mwaice wandi,

I want to say, I’m meant to say, soft light

played the skin of his spent face and the sobs

were, of course, a jangling kind of song.


If I could take you where the sandy earth

meets his final stone, tiled and off-white,

we might have learned to worship better gods.

He was known, in the shebeens, as long John.


At the wake relatives tried variations

on the words of the day: I am sorry

for your grieving/your trouble/your loss.

I’ve been weighing these apologies for years


that pass and retreat like disused stations.

I think of his walk becoming your quarry,

his knack for beguiling women, your cross.

It’s enough to bring me here, past tears


to where his face simplifies to a picture:

the shrine in Nagoya, him stood, Sequoia

among lesser trees, looking good in denim;

every inch the charismatic spectre.


In his memory my voice bears his tincture—

saxophone played low slash boy raised on soya

porridge, chloroquine, a promise of heaven.

There are days I think I’m only a spectre


carrying him slowly to my own graveyard

and, standing at the lectern, rather than my son,

will be another copy: the same sharp

edge to the chin, that basso profundo hum.


Kid brother, we breathers have made an art

of negation, see how a buckled drum

is made from a man’s beating heart

and a fixed gaze is a loaded weapon.