A man lands in Dakar, Senegal, after an aborted attempt to settle in Europe. He goes back to Thiaroye, the neighborhood where he grew up “like a foal removing its harness.” Thiaroye, where dozens of African soldiers asking for their payroll were shot by French forces in 1944, and from where thousands of slaves were shipped to America throughout centuries, where “jellyfish lick a slave’s bronchi,” where one experiences “calentures in the thick matrix of seagulls.”
His memories emerge and mix with antique sounds of balafons and koras, his father’s riti and the griot’s voice. But they are soon melted with the memory of Europe, where his “freedom shouted its semen,” where a “plate could break famine,” but where alcohol came out the winner in the end. “Penicillin-nailed Europe, bitch in absentia, why did you demand endless nuptials of me?”
Like a ghost’s apprentice, he scours the many bars in town: “I suckle criminal alcohols and then I fall down at the foot of a grave cracked with rain. Every night I hope to see my name set in stone, the name a brutal father spat with sperm.”
The male figure in these forty poems is always “emasculated,” “neutered” and diminished by the memory of a sacrifice he endured. “I will not save the world (…). The lamb bathes in fire its wild wool fleece.”
For Bogolan is a Western african cotton fabric, traditionally dyed with mud, in which young people, boys and girls, are wrapped after ritual circumcision…
He sees hyaenas “skinned alive in the crotch of a dip.” He says “My foreskin was buried under the sand, with neither tear nor witness. On an April morning, while drums rained, my youth was buried.”
Bogolan is a long poem about trauma, that of an amputated kid who lost his integrity because of traditions in his hometown, and his soul because of modernity abroad.
“I suffer like you do, do I not? Like the wintering night.”
Léopold Sédar Senghor
Wintering Night’s Letters
Then he tries to warn the kids he meets, those who may be tempted by the same Odyssey, about Europe’s dangers: Paid sex, alcohol and famine, about what he endured. But like his father, they would only spit. And villagers, too. His neighbors recognize him and turn their backs on him, he whose breath smells like “crowded subway,” whose “soul stinks,” whose “flesh has been sniffed by bus shelters for too long.”
“Poor guy, you wade around in the juice of vulvas, the juice of cunts, your pants are older than you and you never change them, your shirt saw mass graves and charters in France. What have you come to do on our ancestors’ promontory?”
The man is expelled from his neighborhood, the only place he thought he knew and was part of. Doesn’t he say that, even if he cannot get to the stadium because of “the too strong suns,” he would still cry victory if his team wins? Even if his team were composed of “Colorado potato beetles,” he would.
The many animals inhabiting the poems are like the only creatures he can still rely on to describe his world.
“Dogs who rejected me, Mastiffs who licked masks, covering with drool the elders’ brows, I can feel your sarcasm, and I fuck you!” he shouts to the people who trample on him and say he wears “a warthog’s uniform.”
“The equation of reconciled trees, I cannot imagine it in this township of dead dogs and pineapples.”
“Beware of rats bred on banana heaps: Those rodents are mighty, they can sweep aside dynasties with plague.”
“A fox hid in my blood its whole offspring.”
“A bee pushed in the sawn-off shotgun of daybreak, I would make your brain raise in plume, if only crime were my ally, if secret closets of blood didn’t disgust me.”
Him, the Man, is not of a violent kind. His testimony is a cry of hope and despair, towards the sky and towards Humanity, to find a solution to loneliness and exile. In fact, he behaves like Christ.
“I do exist against civil servants, my armpits flamed with pupae, midges lit on my anus.”
“I adjure you, may rain drop on my traces, dilute my habits and prevent me from entering ethyl’s gardens, where beer is so cool. Make me dry as a wadi, make me sober as a manatee.”
“I am dawn that wrecks pirogues… Sinners, my friends, see the mercy of fishes, which came to lie down flat in your nets, they submit to the abysses’ authority, they freely choose to fill your children’s bellies.”
“I am the gold-digger in an underground forest, a glade where gazelles revel with miraculous water. With my lantern, I light galleries inaccessible even to the most reckless rats.”
What Christ needs is, in fine, a crucifixion and the support of his mother. In the poem, fishes are jumping freely in nets to feed people in a miraculous catch, and the man’s mother’s hands are “bitten, corroded by cellulose.”
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
In Bogolan, the Virgin is inextricably linked to cotton.
“The sea (“mer/mère,” mother in French) is hiding in her damp hole. I absorb her wholly in a laugh of cotton, and I peacefully cleanse the Peul kid’s brow.”
“Mother, I find you on a hibiscus altar, your fingers corroded by cellulose, you are not ashamed of me.”
And what Christ needs is also what the final poem says:
“I know brave women who don’t neglect their hairstyle while digging latrines in courtyards. I feel the lament of old men who death doesn’t isolate… I defend innocence with my bare fists.”