old dust made new

Posted by Daniela Elza on Feb 20 2011

Another carnival is on its way with the theme: another place, another language, another self. The deadline for submissions is today, February 20th. So, hurry up and send yours in today.
I have chosen to post here a vignette and a poem from the time I grew up in Nigeria. The vignette is brand new. The poem old dust made new was first published in One Ghana, One Voice. It was written for their Harmattan series. (Here you can also check out the interview that went along with the poem.)

I grew up in Nigeria (between 1975 and 1985ish). I am fascinated with memory in general, but even more so with the way memories come back from those childhood days. Hope you enjoy the pieces.


First day of school

I do not speak a word of English. Copy everything painstakingly from the blackboard. (My dad will decipher it for me when I get home.) My classroom has dark green metal shutters for windows. On the first day the only thing I can do is draw.
I draw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Not at work, but at play. One of the dwarfs is swinging from a branch. My new classmates crowd around. They point to the parts of the picture and put their notebooks in front of me. I spend the day drawing in their books.
We play jacks with rocks in the sand. The girls trace the blue veins on my arms. Want to braid my hair. I let them.
The first book assigned by my ESL teacher is Mr. Happy. When I have trouble with the word carpet, she brings one to school. Her car is always full of stuff.

In time I learn to run barefoot in the school yard, to love mangoes, to sing a Housa song:

zo zo zo
zo abokina
zo mutafi makaranta

I eat what the other kids eat. (Even though my parents said not to eat anything we did not bring to school).


old dust made new

the harmattan (d r y and  c o l d)    came in
couplets—     fine   unrimed       red dust
no matter how tightweshutthewindows
you cannot               keep it           out

b l  u   r    r     e      d the trees         the houses
the past—       its long fluorescent lights

thin apparition—       the desert came in
sifted down through           mosquito nets 

) t.here is no without     ) no within      the Sahara
breathing    as if it w e r e   memory      (s l  o  w 
and d i f f i c u l t)  arriving on the north east winds
sinking even through the fabric of my dreams
old dust made new         on our living surf a c e s
in the morning the black table top     turned  canvas

where my dad left us        secret m e s s a g e s
where        my sister and I awoke to the wor(l)d

drew         and rhymed with child fingertips
before my mom shined it clean for breakfast

2 Responses to “old dust made new”

  1. rouchswalwe Says:

    So happy to have found your blog in the Language Carnival, Daniela! Memory is something that I too am fascinated with exploring through words. Congratulations on handing in your dissertation!

  2. Daniela Elza Says:

    Thanks Rouchswalwe. I am enjoying these virtual carnival days too. Discovering new web voices.

    It seems like if you want to keep a memory pure, you should not remember it.:-)
    The act of remembering already changes the memory. We remember from the point of view of who we have become.Which is both unsettling and celebratory.