Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

“Water Ceremonies,” Part II, Africa—a poem by Janet Grace Riehl (Tales from Maun, Botswana; Okavango Delta in Northern Botswana; Kalahari Desert in Western Botswna)

II. Africa

Maun, Botswana

Afternoons, I teach schoolchildren to swim
in the flooded waters of the Tamalakane.
Two fingers support wiry bodies that sink
every chance they get.
“Arch your back! Spread out your limbs! Float! Kick! Paddle!”
Until one student travels under her own speed.
We collapse on the bank, gasping with sputtered water and glee.

Evenings, I swim downriver towards sunset.
A flamboyant lilac-breasted roller covers the sky.
The current muscles me onward, multiplies my strength.
No matter I cannot reach the sun. It reaches me.
My arms cut through the smooth-rolling water flaming before my stroke.

At river’s edge reeds grow with tender white shoots at their base.
Good to eat.
Water lilies perch on princess pads.
Waterskaters skim along the surface between legs of Jesus birds.

It's slow work swimming back against the current.
Fin and smooth slippery skin slide past my calf and knee.
The water parts before my hands. Sun sets.
My wet cheeks reflect the moon, rising.

Okavango Delta, Northern Botswana

We leave from a white hunter safari camp with a Motswana guide in a
Mokoro, that buoyant log burned and dug from tribal memory.
Tent, food, two passengers.
My hand leaves its own wake.

Day one
In knee shallow water, we wade.
If waist high, it's still okay.
The kindly hippo breathes bubbles in warning.
Our guide poles to one side.
You don't want the hippo carrying your boat on its back
before dropping down to swagger off with your arm in its mouth.

Day two
We're beyond settlements now.
A fellow poler hails us to show an abscess on his leg.
Medicine? No.
But we lance the pus and bind his wound.
Fancy-pants language not much use here. Damn!
I wish I were a nurse.

Day three
Our guide burns down a palm tree
to find and eat its heart.
We strip to bathe among reeds and mud.
I've never felt so clean as with
sand and ash for soap.

Day four
This place owns itself.
38 varieties of fish
47 varieties of animals
96 varieties of birds
143 varieties of plants.
None knows their names.
They just are.

Day five
Halfway to somewhere we turn.
We must return to nowhere, where we began.
Uncharted channels call.
We duck out of reach of that siren, Adventure.

Day six
Sky meets water.
We’ve exhausted
all conversational combinations
of Setswana, English, and body language.
We're together, in silence.
Clouds dive deep.

Day seven
It's a straight shot to camp.
Another straight shot to the hot sun showers.
Imported grub.
We empty boat.
The boat is empty.
Goodbye, water legs.
Hello, sand ruts.

Kalahari Desert, Springtime

Rainclouds gather and drop their load.
Delirious sands soak it up, roll it off.
Herbs, wildflowers and tufts of grass spring up...
beyond seeing.

Yesterday, a road.
Today, a river runs...
beyond fording.

We cook sausages over a quick, small fire;
Sip strong tea;
Warm ourselves over stories;
Touch stars on the piercing bright night;
And wait for The Arc to arrive.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses »

  1. I am on safari with you, thanks to your eloquent poetic vision.

  2. Beautiful poems, and the safari so real.

    Thanks for the laugh too.
    No, "You don’t want the hippo carrying your boat on its back
    before dropping down to swagger off with your arm in its mouth"

Leave a Response