Black Is Not the Absence of Color


In Africa, the sunset is not like

Athens where the colors come

out at night, after the city burns

hazy red with car emissions.


Or in London where settling light

is damp like watercolors that

drip and bleed into each other.


And it’s not Utah where the clouds

are powdered dry with pinks,

oranges, purples and the sky stays

lit even after the sun hides

behind the mountains.


The African sunset is like elementary art class

when all the colors of the day

are mixed to black so intense,

so close, I can reach across

the Zambezi River from my lookout,

as the suns falls beyond the dark

line of baobab trees, and touch its warmth.


That day, I collected memories like pigments on the palette of my mind:


Dusty brown children giggling at the mzungu

white person—baking apple-red in the copper sun;

the yellow washtub in the shade,

not like any yellow back home, their yellow—chikasu;

the sandy road, the grey-sheet-door

hanging like a shroud.


Webster, our guide, tells me to wait,

enters to announce we have come to help

the dying man whose faint breaths seem to stir

the sheet in, out. Gently. In, out,

in, where it stopped and the world

too early went black;


but not my black, their black—skadu

— a shade full of Zambian color and hope

for the sun to rise on Africa again.


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