Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Ruy Duarte de Carvalho looks at the history of a lost country




Ruy Duarte de Carvalho was an Angolan poet. He was born in Portugal in 1941 but spent his childhood in Moçâmedes, an Angolan city. During his adolescence he returned to Portugal to finish his studies and when he reached adulthood returned to Africa, working first in Angola then in Mozambique. Like Amílcar Cabral, his work compelled him to travel all over the colonies, understanding its people and traditions. Like Pepetela, he also joined Angola’s struggle for independence and worked in the guerrilla. He also lived in London, where he studied cinema, and France, where he took a college degree in Anthropology. In 1983 he acquired Angolan citizenship. He was a founding member of the Angolan Writers’s Union. He passed away in 2010, in the town of Swakopmund, Namibia, where he resided. He left anthropological works on the people of Angola, travel books, short-stories and poetry. His first poetry book came out in 1976 and his last one in 2000. Themes range from Angolan history, anthropology, nature and autobiography. I read the collection, but I admit I had a hard time enjoying his style. I don’t think a lot of it was poetry in the conventional sense, and it wasn’t unconventional in a good way. I include him mainly because I’m trying to explore all the different ways of being an Angolan writer, and also because once in a while I found what I considered little gems:

IT WAS JANUARY

You’ll remember I was here once.
It was January and I didn’t have friends.
I came from afar
And in my suitcase I brought dirty laundry
And some coverless books.

I’ll tell you later
About the memories I still don’t know today –

Of the surprise
Of sneaking upon children’s laughter
And not finding odd
The embarrassing stink
Of adventure.

I could say everything now.
Tell you what’s not going to happen.
Tell you, at last,
How being here doesn’t belong to me
Nor to you
Nor does it pertain to wise madmen
Nor to saints uncovered by martyrdom.

I could even say to you, today and here
In this hotel room
(familiarly poor and dirty)
How little I need to face the world:

Just coming boldly like this, to rescue
Two hours of south-western sunlight.

SALTPETRE WOUNDS

Look at this country fraying itself
Into saltpetre wounds
And the forts’ darkened walls
Gnawed by the stillness
Of urine and sweat
Of virgin flesh sent
To dig glories and greatness
Across the other side of the sea.

Look at the history of a lost country:
Receding tides of gagged people
The naïve tolerance used up
By flesh. Ask the sea
Who is docile and caresses still
The same old eroded littoral.

Look at these brutish quadrangular constructions:
Harbours, depots of people.
Look at these corpse-renovated rivers
The rivers turbid with the thick sliding
Of the arms and mothers of my country.

Look at the newly-restored churches
Over ruins of propagated faith:
White walls of an urgent generosity
Hiding irons to tie up people.

Look at this night inherited in these eyes
And at a people condemned to knead your bread.

Look at it, love, you can see
A history of stone building itself
Over a dead history fraying itself
Into saltpetre wounds.

THE CLOSEST REASON

And then I found out
That you were also a body
And not just
The closest reason for me finding myself alone.

It was windy, outside, which helped
And your body
Was the mirrored image of my body
Or vice-versa.

And I found myself discovering it was not sinful
To think of other agonies by your side
Because your body
In spite of itself warned me.
I knew little of you and didn’t even bother to know you.

Two bodies tidied up side by side
Are meat tempering another humbleness.

We are so secret, but so hot.

I COME FROM A SOUTH

I came from an East
To measure the night
In large gestures
That I invented in the South
Shepherding mulolas and anharas
Fair
Like thighs remembered in May.

I come from a South
Clearly measured
In the transparency of morning’s fresh water.
From a circular world
Free of seasons.
From a nation of wandering bodies
Mistook
In the colour of the sharp dirt
Of the dark ground wrapped in embers.

A WIND – THE EROSION OF TIME

The word sleeps
In the hill’s side
It makes time clouds
And digs rivers
With the torrents of sound.

The word matures
At the bottom of caves
Exhaling vapours
It turns into dust
Of caustic colour
It adheres to the finest
Layers of the skin
It breaks up hands
Held by indecisive love
And cradles dark
Children growing colder.

The word invades
The shame of caves
The veins of the woods
The sky of lagoons.
The word sculpts
In the dusty craters
The cold fortune
Of naked boys.

The word is
In the fossil layer:
Asleep for millions of years
In the wings of the bolt
That petrified the daily dawn.

The word spins
On childhood’s bike:
Maritime light
Salt tile
A rotating disc
With the centre in the belt
Cutting the landscape down
According to age.

The last two poems belong to the same book, one my favourites; basically they’re African oral myths that the poet discovered while doing researched and adapted them into poetry:

AKAN

Is the chief greater than the hunter?
Arrogance! Than the hunter? Arrogance!

That pair of sandals in your feet
How did they happen?
Wasn’t it the hunter who killed the gazelle?

Greater than the hunter?
Arrogance! Than the hunter? Arrogance!

In the procession, in front of you
The drums’ noisy heads
Weren’t they made from elephant ears?
And who took them down from the elephant?

Does the chief call himself greater than the hunter?
Arrogance! Than the hunter? Arrogance!

FULANI

In the beginning there was a great milk drop.

Then Doondori came and created the stone.
Then the stone created the iron
The fire created the fire
Fire created water
And water created the air.

Then Doondori descended for the second time.
He grabbed the five elements and shaped Man.
Mas man became proud…
Then Doondori created blindness
And blindness defeated Man.
But when blindness became proud
Doondori created dreams
And dreams defeated blindness.
And when the dreams became proud
Doondori created attention
And attention defeated the dreams.
And when attention became proud
Doondori created death
And death defeated attention.
And when death became proud
Doondori descended
For the third time
He appeared like Gueno
The Eternal
And defeated death.


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