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They Don't Give Their Smiles Out for Free



They don’t give their smiles out for free here.


If I were not watching

Not listening

Not feeling the great unspoken magnitude of her life

I would have found her rude

For that stare

So severe

Like the shadow of a humpback whale

Which rises under your tiny boat

And through no malice or ill will

It dashes your ship to pieces

And sprawls you into the ocean to drown.

That is what lurks beneath those eyes

When she says, “Yes, sir,”


And who am I

That she should smile at me

Wealthy foreigner from across the ocean

She holds a mop in a soapy pail of water

I do not need to mop a stranger’s room

To feed my children

So I have earned

Whatever darkness

Lies behind that gaze.

They did not smile at the restaurant either

I do not know what I saw

But even half a millennia and ten thousand miles apart

I would know joy if I saw it

And this is not joy.




But the sun broke through an overcast day

Late afternoon at the clothing store

God granted a small gift

A smile broke across the cashier’s face

And I knew at once

Why they don’t give their smiles away for free here.


Because if all of them were smiling

The rainbow gleam that would shine from West Africa

Would blind the airplane pilots

And scramble the satellites

And short circuit the cell phone towers

Because the laughter of an African

Is the purest note ever sounded

In God’s orchestra





It fills the earth and sky

The soul nearly bursts to hear it

It is like sunrise over the mountains

It is like white egrets, glinting sunlight

As they soar over the Kwame Nkrumah memorial

A Nigerian woman smiling

Is what one searches a lifetime to find

And must race to the jeweler

For an engagement ring

Just in case

She lays with mortals

Like in the epic stories

A Ghanaian man dancing with his friends

Is a symphony

Played by golden trumpets in high altitudes

Their joy is a spray of crystal fountain water

In patterns of silver and blue


As a child poses between the stone pillars

A gap in her white teeth

A straw hat on her brow, gently torn on one side

The smile she gives to that camera

Might shatter the lens

And crash the circuit board

Impossible to capture

Its only house is the open sky.


There is not enough atmosphere to contain

What happens as her siblings crowd around to ruin the photo

And they all begin to laugh

The sight is like the promised land

For the first time

I truly understand

What Gospel music

Is about.

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah

It’s a Highway to Heaven

I got a robe up in-a that kingdom

Ain’t that Good News?




It’s Good News

When we wake up

To a world unfolding


It’s Good News

When your sleeping face is there beside me

And Praise God

Your chest is still rising and falling

Quiet breaths


I’d rest with you

But let me stay awake

A little while longer

To drink it in.


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