This poem is part of a series that I’m working on right now, tentatively called The Price of Aluminum. It’s based on some recent events that you can read about here, if you’re interested. Thanks for reading!
The Bauxite Miner of Boké
If we are to be made to pay with our lives
shall we not give you all of that?
Not only the toil of our bodies
but the fever of hopeless toil
not only this land of ours
made red as freshly raw blisters
but the fire ants and smoke of burning tires.
You must take the wound and its festering.
As you know our fathers taught us
that if you save the life of a man
then you are responsible for him
and if he asks you must give him a gift.
Surely you’ve saved our lives
with all these wonderful jobs—
I know I love blowing up
valleys of the Fuuta Jaloo
and sending them to you
in pieces down the River Nunez.
Come to think of it, perhaps it was I
who first saved your life, and ever since
you’ve been bothering me for gifts.
First it was Fulbe slaves, then peanuts.
Then you planted rubber trees and asked for rubber.
Now you want piles of red rocks.
You’ve made our savannas into pale macules
upon the green face of Earth.
The mangroves nearby smell burnt.
The mango trees are no good anymore
their juice tastes like drain cleaner.
I’ll tell you what, let’s go ahead and settle up
and go our separate ways. What do you say?
I don’t care what my fathers taught me,
I’d rather buy you off in your fashion:
two rational columns of expenses.
We shall take account line by line
until we are commensurate
and if there is some remainder
whatever that is, the price of it
will be exactly as much as you or I
are willing to pay, which is, in this case
the same thing, which is to say, my life.
I only ask that you take all of it
you must also take the hatred in me
and violence that sometimes precipitates
like alumina from your heaps of red rocks
when I think about electricity
and how the lights in my neighborhood
flicker if they flicker at all, and at
Companie Bauxite they never go out.
Or how the earth-towing trucks
always have gas to haul your red rocks
or how the gendarmes who opened fire
were Senegalese, and the shattered buildings
they chased us from, were owned by Frenchmen
and run by Guineans from Conakry.
You see, if I’m sometimes unruly
and hatred grips the backs of my eyes
and juggles them in the darkness
like unquiet spirits of the Sousou
it must be because the price of my life
is something I’ve had time to consider
the same way you might consider
balancing on the backs of your feet
which sort of canned beer to get.