"Africa Rising" accompanies Barbara Chase-Riboud's sculpture of the same title at the African Burial Ground memorial in New York City. The African Burial Ground Project describes her work as an "homage to the African Burial Site and the transport of Africans to this land, their bondage and struggle for freedom... 'Africa Rising' is a culmination of her commitment to history, literature, poetry, and sculpture. In this monument, all the threads of her creative life are woven into one unique expression, itself evoking the intricate and delicate interweaving of the common history and heritage of all citizens of the United States."
Note: The language in this poem may make it unsuitable for some classes.
"Africa Rising" by Barbara Chase-Riboud
Out of Omega we came,
Out of the womb of the world we came
All pleasure in feast and love forgotten
All rancor in feud and war forgotten
All joy in birth and circumcision forgotten
We came, Blackbodies: the negative of the light
The only merchandise that carries itself
A column of jet quickening,
Gyrating in one celestial tribal dance
Spreading like a giant blastoma
Spinning itself into the fireball of a new planet.
In a season of stars, we came,
Out of Omega, rending the cosmos
Groaning across deserts and pyramids of Kush,
A lunar landscape of brimstone
Basalt and Obsidian, biotite and barium.
From undergrounds pebbled with diamonds and gold scum
We came, into the Hell of deathly White.
In eclipsed sun, the negation of time,
Conned and even bankrupt and ravished kingdom,
Zeila & Somaliland, Galla & Abyssinia, Tigre & Shoa
Niger & Nile, Orange & Congo, Cubango & Kasai
Strung out in caravans, we came, a stunned string of
Black pearls like a hundred year centipede: one thousand,
One thousand thousand, one million, three, six, nine, thirty million,
Torn from their roots, like belladonna lilies we came,
Death in every heart, sprawling over the badlands.
The red flag of slavery blotted out sky, hope and memory
Lashing the hot sand of Ogaden
Fingers clutching a chilled sun in cyclone
Granite phalli marking graves strewn backwards,
While murder moved...
The Gods sit mute and horrified on their
Polished haunches, while we labor
Through petrified forests, an armour of glinting sweat
Out mouths stuffed with pebbles
Our savage wail whirling soundless on
Bloodied lips beaten back at every step by clouds
Of insects that cling to flesh like leeches in love
Shackled hands and bent necks sway
In malignancy, oiled with tears
Their distant verse a children's chant in muffled
Barren dust that shifts and bursts underfoot
As light as charcoal, as deep as Genesis.
Outraged Spirits wheeze and groan, carried on slippery shoulders
Their godheads still roseate in the gathering dusk.
Magic is vanquished, no more will the Tribes prostrate themselves
Before Amon, Save, Seto & Whoot, Legba & Ogun,
No longer will the Nation swallow the burning sperm of warlocks
For they have allowed us and the Gods to fall into abomination.
The multi-colored powders of the Rites
Have blended into that which is all colors: Black
Boulders of our grief block our way like the
Palm of Shango and their weight undoes us all...
In the brazen glare of Africa's beach,
One collective scream rams the sullen sea
Vibrating the python of the continent
As tremors of our earthquake
Ripple back towards home and in that last moment,
With the sea and slavery before us,
The Race, resplendent unto itself dissolves and
All biographies become One.