Tuesday Poem: Going to Africa

“I am not the prodigal son,” I said
to my mother who had come
to take me back. “I’m going to Africa,”

to see if my face colors her ground,
if my sadness thickens Sahara dust and famine,
if my wet season rains anything more than sweat.

I am not ashamed of searching.
But will she welcome me? I’ve left
English grammar, French phonetics, history,
anthropology notes, the King James Version.

And if not the color of her soil,
if my dance is toe-pointed and straight,
will she know me even as one lost son?
“I am not the prodigal,” I said more softly.

And if I’m told, “You’re American. Go home.
Africa doesn’t want fugitives.” Or turning
from my wheat skin, she awaits seeds deep
in famine soil and rainy human seasons,

I may find that a change of place
is nothing safe, and no other masks or moods
can tie back the cord that first fed me blues.

–by Melvin Dixon

Source: Poetry (April 2024)
Note: This poem was previously published in Change of Territory (University of Kentucky Press, 1983) and is part of the portfolio “Melvin Dixon: I’ll Be Somewhere Listening for My Name.” © Melvin Dixon and used with permission of the author’s estate. You can read the rest of the portfolio in the April 2024 issue.