On the islands they left a legacy of hybrid words and sorrowful plantations
rusted sugar mills breathless prows resonant aristocratic names and the legend of a shipwreck on Sete Pedras
Arriving from the North they cast anchor here by mandate or by chance in the service of their king: navigators and pirates slave traders thieves contrabandists common folk also rebel outcasts and Jewish children so tender that they faded like sun-dried ears of corn
The ships brought compasses trinkets seeds experimental plants inhuman bitterness a stone monument as pallid as wheat and other cargo without dreams nor roots because the whole island was a port and a road with no return all of the hands were black pitchforks and hoes
And alive they became stuck on the rocks like scabs—every coffee tree now breathes a dead slave
And on the islands remained incisive arrogant statues on street corners more than a hundred churches and chapels for a mere thousand square kilometers and the insurgent syncretism of nativity scenes. And there remains the palatial cadence of the Ussua Creole dance the aroma of garlic and olive oil [End Page 309]
in traditional clay pots and in the calulu the bay leaf mixed with palm oil and the fragrance of rosemary and basil from family gardens
And to the ticking of insular clocks were cast spectres—implements of the empire in a structure of ambiguous clarities and secular condiments patron saints and demolished fortresses inexpensive wines and shared auroras
At times I think of their livid skeletons their fetid hair on the sea shore Here, on this fragment of Africa where, facing South, a word dawns on high like a banner of distress
Conceição Lima (Maria da Conceição Costa de Deus Lima) is author of two volumes of poems, O Útero da Casa (The Womb of the House) and Dolorosa Raiz do Micondó (The Painful Roots of the Baobab Tree). She lives in London, where she works as a journalist and producer of Portuguese-language services for the BBC.
Russell G. Hamilton is Professor Emeritus of Spanish and Portuguese at Vanderbilt University and author of numerous articles, essays, and books on Portuguese and lusophone literatures and cultures, including Voices from an Empire: A History of Afro-Portuguese Literature and Literatura Africana and Literatura Necessária.