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.

R. Charboneau

2 thoughts on “Studies in Aluminum

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