1 Mountains Speak
Our plane flies
Over the Makhonjwa Mountains,
Which formed the valleys and gorges of Swaziland.
I marvel at how they carry age,
Billions of years, stratified layers
Beneath the green-hued rock.
And I think of home
Over eight thousand miles away,
The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
Lush green in summer,
Waiting for this new day to arrive.
These misty African mountains,
Cradling humanity, confound speech.
We have come to bring words,
But I can hardly untie my tongue
In the presence of their majesty.
2 Minerva Lab Theater, Mbabane
We had come to bring words
To the center of Swazi culture,
Where the country’s wordsmiths and singers,
With names like “the Conductor,” Bonaiwe, Nbobie
Kr TC, and Qibho Intalektual,
Transformed the drab of the theater into light.
Where they made ancestors walk in flesh
And fly with extended wings like eagles,
Where they told of sangoma,
Grandmothers, who divine the secrets of the forests,
And told stories of the Motsa clan
Who make the rain.
All of us had come
With our expectations bursting with brightness.
Now we leave the theatre like Olympians,
Who bring the torch and pass it on.
3 SOS Children’s Village, Nhlangano
They bring the torch and pass it on.
The fire is in the children’s eyes.
Loss of parents, hunger or poverty
Has not extinguished it.
They are eager and joyful
As they recite their language,
Proclaim their names,
And dream about who they will become.
We learn their words
Sawubona –hello—necessary syllables
To greet others,
Ngiyabonga—thank you—even more syllables
To speak gratitude.
We learn lessons from them:
How to live in the moment
Expecting nothing but what is before us,
Relishing time swifter than the impala.
Believing in absolutes like flowers,
Mountains, and love.
We don’t learn the word for good-bye.
4 Mapped by Heart
We came expecting strangers
Shared words that made us friends
Embraced children with only love to give,
Held counsel with men on fire for change
And women who understand their elephant-power.
We learned that Ninjani—
How are you—
Is not an empty term.
It carries heft like reddish rock where pines hold fast
And is as plentiful as the acacia that grace the land.
Now my finger traces the lines on the page
Connecting places that I lock in my memory:
Hhohoho, Ezulwini, Manzini and Mbabane
Where we learned the truth of magnitude and bond
And found a people we mapped by heart.
–Joanne Gabbin was educated at Morgan State University and the University of Chicago. In 1994 Gabbin organized and directed the historic conference, “Furious Flower: A Revolution in African American Poetry,” which she called the “largest gathering of poets, critics, and scholars in more than two decades” dedicated to celebrating the African American poetic tradition. In 2004, Gabbin organized the second Furious Flower poetry conference. She is editor of Furious Flower: African American Poetry from the Black Arts Movement to the Present (2004) and The Furious Flowering of African American Poetry (1999), and executive producer of the Furious Flower video and DVD series. She is also author of a biography, Sterling A. Brown: Building the Black Aesthetic Tradition (1994), and a children’s book, I Bet She Called Me Sugarplum (2004). Gabbin’s articles have appeared in Callaloo, African American Review, The Zora Neale Hurston Forum, The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing, the Langston Hughes Journal, The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, and others. In October 2005, Gabbin was inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. She is founder and organizer of the Wintergreen Women Writers’ Collective, and owner of the 150 Franklin Street Gallery in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She is currently a professor of English at James Madison University where she is also director of the Honors Program and executive director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center.