We stopped, first, beside the river,
where forbidden water oozed
beneath the steel rainbow of the bridge.
Heat fractured the air, dissolved
the sandbanks, burned
the soles of our feet. Trees,
upended by the hyena’s rage,
groped for sustenance from the sky.
There were no ghosts yet; but carcases
of ants, discarded like old names,
marked rims of craters in the sand.
Beyond the bridge, the road bore north
and, suddenly, there were mangoes. Abandoning
their branches, they plopped to the ground,
bursting like Nyakuyimba’s head to form
rivulets of yellow in the dust.
We plundered the roadside, not heeding
the grey lourie’s call – go away,
go away – until time overtook us
and we drove on, to where the earth
leaks scalding water. We floated
with our bounty in the pools
and ate exuberantly,
peeling the turpentine skins,
sucking flesh from fibrous pips
as juice ran down our chins.
That evening, we lit kerosene lamps
in imitation of the stars.
We talked about infinity
as moths bruised their wings against the glass,
mosquitoes whined around our heads
and the night croaked.
Now I buy mangoes neatly packaged,
‘ripe and ready’. I slice away
the skin to expose the flesh
beneath. No bird sings.
This poem first appeared in Allegro Poetry Issue 23, in December 2019.