Rain Off the Gulf of Guinea

by Todd Fredson


The low clouds blown northeast, and the higher clouds blowing slowly the opposite direction.
Once, on acid, I watched the water separate like this, layers above the lake. That day

a deer had broken its leg on the mud flats at my parent’s house. Our Lab
stood on the shore, mud-caked to his belly,
barking in sequence— one! two! three!… one,— like a clock on the hour. That was a terrible tide.

Along this strip of coast, palms blunt the shoreline.

From the field where Nestor and I have cut paille to replace his roof
the monsoon clouds are visible out to sea, bunched with lightning.

First big drops scattering dust on the road— Plunk.
Plunk— on my tin roof.

Until the rain hits so hard
that the drops bounce back up and land again, like static
beneath the radio’s news:

another coup in the capital.

Burned cars and barricades are no longer
removed from the radio station, which is always taken first.

Stepping from the backs of the badjans, reaching up for their bags,
relatives will begin to tell their stories.

~

I think of Paul Celan walking along the Seine.
He watches the only other walker out on the wet streets. I put her there
on the bridge. Young existentialism

still sharp, still feeling. Cars brush up against her. The rise
of the black ground

then she is gone. I push her onto the sidewalk again.

Gold flecks
swirl around the pavilion of quicksand in Celan’s throat.
He can see

she is more in love than ever. The image of herself
flickers on the passing windows, flickers

over the passengers. She is anonymous and desirable.

She does not begin to resent or draw conclusions.
My twin, which saves me, thinks Celan.

The garbage from the streets is carried into the Seine.
For the first time, she remembers she began this morning with an umbrella.

~

Elephant grass burns in a long line. The hood of smoke
ambling more voluminously. Rain harder, less

flinching. The women cross the courtyard hurry embers into their huts

and the children line buckets beneath my eaves. The corrugated tin
herds the water into strands
first smacking the plastic bottoms of the buckets

then the sound of water stacking.

Even with these monsoons, the waves roll out. Graceful
backbends of saltwater.

Leaving home
has made me gentler.

At night, I scratch my heels against the bites on my legs.

Paul,

I am sorry
about the little violence I have contributed to this poem,
pushing my friend

like some child on a swing,
my attention straying
after that hummingbird impulse, throb in the face of every stranger

until each face so familiar, so sensitive it glows…

What is this notion of purity?

The mind stands like that lip of tide
against its undertow. Ahh…Paul,

but your heart is mired in conclusion.

~

Missing what she imagines for herself
is not quite the same

as sorrow being
in possession of the Imagined—the immeasurable
human name.

An aria of human names.

I have given myself permission to call it: infidelity;

the branching of faith;

reader. The head of language rises.
Wrapped in smoke, wrapped in cloud, wrapped in rain.


Read Todd Fredson’s Late Summer: To the Bride, Gaunt Pleasures, and The Sorting Grounds

Or read more poetry in our current issue