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  • Octopus Surprise, and: Wrestling the Waves at Brenu Akyinim
  • Anthony Grooms (bio)

Octopus Surprise

This is Africa with tentacles: The menu at the Dot Dees, resplendent, offering twenty or more delights—one with real, European cheese—I caution Wolf, reminding him of an earlier disappointment—"It said parmigiano," he'd wept. We ponder—Though the menu is no surprise—"I will have" … A great pause weighs the gloaming sky and bird calls interject—"the 'Kenturkey fried chicken.'" This is not a good choice, I quip—here, you order the fried fish. At Cape Café, order the fish and chips, never the pizza. At Mabel's Table, it's fish stew—a fried red fish, ripened by fresh tomato and herbs—and always beer—Star, Gulder, Club—Soon Esi brings the tip, "The chicken, it is finished." Wolf picks at the menu again, "Then, I'll have" … "No," Esi cries, "I am cooking octopus!"—and so he will accept a serving of the rich and tangled tentacles of Africa.

Elmina harbor jumps and crawls with the abundance of the sea. Where once slaves were shipped to sea, fish have always been dragged to land. Red fish, mackerel, swordfish, their lances chopped and bodies hewn into bright steaks—perch and grouper, yellowfin, marlin as blue as the lagoon, mako, hammerhead, squid, clam, stingray, snail and octopus with suckered arms stretching along the planks and strangling the fishmonger's thin wrist as if to stave off the cooking pot. "Ghana is a poor, poor country," she moans, while the men heave up swelling nets from their canoes, striped with scripture. Timber trucks, heavy with the forest, sway and chug on the road to the docks at Tema; gold ore to Holland; bauxite for the American aluminum plant; diamonds for the fingers of English brides. And fish, fish with their silver and blue arching dorsals, and their gaping red gills. Fish for the world to eat.

The surprise is a thin sauce stained with tomato and white with the white and gray suckered tubes, cut into fingers. Esi stands by for a report and Wolf chews and chews, nods to relieve her, and chews. There are small boys in this village who would relish the meal, and mothers, should they own a fish, would sell it to buy fufu. Once I went with a boy to market to buy new school shoes. There was an abundance of shoes, smelling of sour feet and new polished leather. Smooth toe and perforated, slip-ons with tassels, ankle-boots, and steel-toe. Laces, zippers, buckles, shoes from everywhere in the world—but not one a new shoe. I pour Wolf a cold Star to chug behind the rubbery chunks and I tease that the tentacles will wiggle in his tummy all night. They will stretch up and strangle his heart. They will crawl from his mouth and they will stretch out, everywhere, all over the earth. [End Page 153]

Wrestling the Waves at Brenu Akyinim*

Copper sun or scarlet sea

—Countée Cullen, "Heritage"

complexities which still will be complexities as long as the world lasts

—Marianne Moore, "An Octopus"

Africa is the entirety of the world. Such a sea is a deepWhole that cleaves and shatters in all directions,Then pulls together again: mystery, guile, exaltation, despair.

Who can know the bottom of it? The bush is spare at Brenu Akyinim,A blight eating up the palms, but one pretty grove, with painted trunks lean

Toward the sea, like sirens in love. Nearby a traveler palmPreens, flares its leaves for all to see into the green marbleizing

Marbled sea and sea weed and black daggers of rock. The wavesAre tubes, painting scallops on the Atlantic. At the foot of the dunes,

The sand is soft, deep and crunches like snow; is this the cradle from which EuropeCrawled, the ladle from which Asia poured—and, the Americas—petulant urchins—Silly at their mother's breasts? Is Africa the cauldron into which the world falls?

Clay shards litter where Eufago, an ancient and golden city onceSat, where now the sea digs up its three-skulled graves. And yet it was

From Africa the...


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