Ann Neelon (Senegal 1978–79)
When I discovered that all the postcards of black authors had been defaced,
I heard my voice crackling, as in a radio transmission from outer space.
The world was waiting for me to deliver an important message, but I was an
______ astronaut, not a poet.
The best I could do was paraphrase someone else’s efforts:
“That’s one small step back for a man, one giant leap backward for mankind.”
Through the window of my classroom, I could see the Columbia Point Housing
rising up in front of me like a lost planet.
Asphalt and cinder blocks were its most distinctive surface features.
I remembered the alien boy who had landed from there in my classroom.
When I called on him to read, he had inched his long black finger across the page,
sounding out each syllable as if he were in second grade.
By the end of the week, he had given up on other universes.
I imagined him back in the projects, leaping up for a jump shot into a basketball
______ hoop without a net.
He had been recruited as a basketball star. I heard the basketball bouncing,
______ bouncing, bouncing.
“Don’t blame us, we didn’t do it,” my students insisted. “Don’t blame, us, don’t
______ blame us.”
I studied, below me, the small white dot of each worried face.
Earth, with its oceans and rivers, mountains and forests, kept swirling and swirling.
I said, “Léopold Sédar Senghor was the President of Senegal as well as a poet.
He was born in Joal, a fishing village where I once ate tortoise meat and rice out of a
______ bowl with my hands.
At low tide, we waded out to a shell island, where the granaries, on stilts above the
looked like old people with thick torsos and skinny legs.
At dawn, the fishermen, in flowing robes, set out to sea in their tiny pirogues . . .”
I started with Senghor because his face had suffered the biggest gash.
Once by one, I held up the defaced postcards, praying and praying over the face of
______ the earth.