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,
for 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 saved your life first,
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
on the green face of the earth;
the mangroves nearby smell burnt,
the mango trees are no good anymore,
their fruit is mealy on the lips,
and the juice tastes like drain cleaner.
I’ll tell you what, let’s go ahead and settle up
and go our separate ways.
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,
while at Companie Bauxite they never seem
to shut off, or how the earth-towing trucks
always have gasoline 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
in the beer aisle, which kind of canned beer to get.