Featured Poem: “Tasting Africa”

map of africa, vintage africa map

Tasting Africa

I am tasting Africa—Yergacheffe in this café,
This young woman’s eyes, silver, a skin all pearl
And her hair a brown river through a wilderness
Of dream. I am tasting Africa with this scone,
Listening to a speech I read at fifteen for no particular
Reason—Haile Selasse. The coffee is deep, rich and dark
But a touch dry on the surface.
I lift my cup as one might lift the weight of slaves.

I am tasting Africa, Mzuzu of the highlands, orphans
Clapping in the backstreets of Ekwendeni, the ground rooted
Expanse of wind across the Nyika of swiftfootedness
And the graced canopies of brachystegia. I am tasting
The kiln fires of Dedza, the bittersweet chalk of the technical college
In Lilongwe, the blue of Cape Maclear like a kid’s freezie,
Bright deep blue from Livingstonia to the Chipome Valley
As I gaze back, below- throat gulping at the Lake of Stars.
I am tasting Africa, Harry’s Bar, Carlsberg, Carlsberg,
Huche Kuche and goat’s head and roast chicken, meals
Prepared by Tami—sheer selfless, self-filling art,
The blood of Chilembwe and the marble dust at the monument
Of Hastings Kamuuzu Banda, on the way to the airport
Along the winter dry Kamuzu Road. I am tasting
The dew I was then, as visitor, perhaps friend and in the dewdrops,
Quarrels. I am almost tasting the mvuu farting, assured
In pure presence: this is my territory, crocodiles, fish hawks
All quarter and respect . . . Shire River of ghosts and bones.

I am tasting Africa and I have stopped dreaming:
No Kim Bassinger or Meryl Streep waiting beside
Some dangerous Serengetti, no Peck or Jaluka waiting
On the peaks of Kilamanjaro crying out “sing your song’.
I am singing of Africa, the song in my ear an unsung song.
I am tasting Kenyan coffee, President’s Choice, purchased
Unlike, I confess, my normal OFT…praying to Kenyatta—
A name muttered with reverence by Father Quinn once, petty
And effeminate, as he wept openly before us,
Having returned ’71, from Biafra . . . They cry, they cry:
The heart’s dark in London, the darkening heart
Of Ottawa, Antwerp, Amsterdam and Washington-
The beloved countries of lost tribal lines and fires…
Bantu, Chichewa, Tonga, Ngoni. I am tasting Africa, pray
To Dallaire and to my friend, once a Shell corporation lawyer, half
Saint now, one with nature, whom I forgive as I read
Soyinka, Walcott looking back in hunger, Arthur Nortje
Blown out like a quick match in a damp wind, the water jars
Borne like dreams of children carried by graceful, draped women.
I am tasting Africa, remembering Nairobi six months ago,
The drying streams near the gaping silos, the carvings sold
In the airport- half Indiana Jones, half Bogart, the bottled
Water, coffee beyond description, the carved giraffes and
Cold Tusker under low ceilings. I am tasting Africa and it is
Good—bloodroot, red bush, high ground, patient wind,
The sun above diamond glint in the crow’s eyes—hard and long.


(“Tasting Africa” first appeared in Carrying the Branch: Poets in Search of Peace, Glass Lyre Press, 2017.)

Denis Stokes lives in Callander, a small community in Northern Ontario, with his wife and four children. A graduate of University of Toronto and Vermont College, Stokes teaches English to high school students. He also teaches Literature/Writing and Religious Studies at high school and university levels, currently at Nipissing University. He won first place for poetry in the NU-NOW literary contest. His poems has appeared in various journals (Canadian Literature, Quarry, Nebula) and chapbooks. His works include Scarborough Poems, A Wolf Rages Down the Little Jocko, Tunnel Jumping, and The Blackstock Children.  He’s also done some dramaturge work, most recently for Watershed’s production of King Lear, starring David Fox.