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Mother, At Last - Africa Day 1

Last year I wrote a scrap of a song

It says,

Can you feel the light break through the clouds?

And the melody starts high - almost too high

And floats downward

As if on currents of air

Today I was on my sixth plane flight in six days.

When turbulence hits

I grip the armrests, turn up the music in my headphones

To drown out the fear and nausea

And repeat the mantra of my journey:

Kansas City. Chicago. Louisville. Atlanta. New York. Accra.

Can you feel the light break through the clouds?

On the seventh day, as if in scripture

The seventh descent from high altitudes

Fighting nausea I looked across the plane at the tiny porthole

The small window of cloud and fog and sky

The plane lurched downward again

“Where are you?” I asked aloud

And could not believe that tears were already streaming down my face

“Where are you?” I asked aloud again

As the plane dipped

And then

Can you feel the light break through the clouds? For an instant

The clouds parted

And she was there.


Just a flash of houses and trees

That was swallowed up again by clouds

But I had seen her

With my own eyes

I had looked upon her

The plainness

And the beauty

Ordinary trees

Ordinary homes filled with ordinary people

They could not imagine, or maybe even understand

How my heart nearly burst

At the sight Before she was hidden by clouds again


I am an orphan who has caught the smallest glimpse

Of his mother in a crowded airport

She may not fully recognize me anymore

Or I, her

As we have been apart

For four hundred years

And haltingly, try to speak to one another

In foreign languages

I don’t even recognize you anymore

After the centuries

But at some point

We were fashioned together in this clay

And there is an echo of your deep eyes

And your rich, luminous, brown skin

That lives in me

Though flickering

And many times diluted

Yes, Mother

It is still me

I am one of yours

Can you see

The resemblance?

I have flown across the Atlantic

I have arrived from another continent

Where I was adopted and abused

And fell in love and made music

And marched and wept and fought and died

And overcame and languished behind bars

I have flown from my wicked step-mother’s house

All across that great wide water

To find you

Though it has been so long

Though I don’t recognize you

And I don’t even recognize


Hold me for a little while.

Be as ugly and as beautiful as you are

Be as rich and poor and sick as you are

Let me bathe in your rich humidity

Your bosom warm embrace

That I remember from my fetus life

Hold me just a little while

You do not need to perform for me

Or impress me

Just let me breathe your air for a moment

Look at your sky for a moment

I can be a runaway distant cousin

Who you never met

Or never liked

Or always longed for

I am used to being unrecognizable

I never looked like


In my family


My bare feet have not touched your soil yet

The clay that formed us both

But when I’ve slept, and woken again

I will step lightly on the firmament

And whether it is grass, or sand, or gravel

Or even if it is littered and unclean

I’ll press my toes down into this

Small part of your body

And as if I stood at the beginning of the book of Genesis

When light was first thrown out to spangle the cosmos

I’ll look out over your ordinary trees

And your ordinary homes

And your ordinary people

Black and Beautiful

And I will say,

“It is good.”

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