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  • Ra Ra, and: Shots Rang Out On My Street Today (A Poem in Dub)
  • Afua Cooper (bio)

Ra Ra

in honour of the carnival in Fort-de-France, Martinique, and to the genius of the Haitian people.

What, what is this I hear!A thousand drums playingRatatat, ratatat ratatatatat!!!!!And Max Roach conducting!Ratatam, ratatam, ratatam!Trap drumsDjembesAnd congasAnd the voices of a hundred archangelschanting into the wind

Ra Ra Ra Ra Ra RaThe drums screaming the name ofDahomeyBut this is Fort-de-FranceDahomey is on the other side of the ocean!

What is this I hear!Ra Ra drums awakening the cityA dog howlsI look through the windowHe dives into the seaAnd disappears while swimming to the other side of the harbour

A cock, its circadian clock re-calibrated,Crows at fifteen minutes to middayRa Ra rhythms have remade the world

But this is not HaitiHow come these Ra Ra people are marchingAll over Foyal?Sending vibrations into the earth, the air, and the sky?Answering secret rhythms with sacred rhythmsI am sure they are not mortal beings [End Page 79] But a celestial hordeOn the march with Babatunde Olatunji

The sound of trap drumsSaah saah yeahing up to the hillsTo DidierMorne TartensonTrenelleEven up to the Balata RoadWay past TivoliTo the volcano named Mont PeleeAnd from the peak of the hillThe drummers and trumpetersLook down onto the harbourLook way past the horizonAnd beat their thoughts onto the airSending back the colonizer and Indian killerd'EsnambucTo the deepest dungeon of FranceRe-crowning ChatoyerBeating the martial rhythms for triumphantKalinago warriorsReversing the traite negriereStitching whole again Africa

And in the distanceFrom the direction of LamentinI hear the pounding of hoovesDum dum dum doom doom doom doomThe earth trembles in unexpected blissI see clouds of brown dust spiraling into the skyI feel the hot breath of panting steedsRushing toward Fort RoyalSomewhere, there is a clash of cymbalsA gate opensMounted men holding a landscapeOf multicoloured flags rush throughSparks of fire rise from the horses' hoovesWhat is this? the cavalryLed by the fugitive named Mathieu Léveillé?

From the savannah the drummers advanceBeating on a thousand drumsBlowing on horns and trumpets [End Page 80] Bamboo sticksShaking shak shaksNot made by human hands

African captives chainedAt the bottom of slave shipDrowned in ship wreck at Anse CafardAnd from way up north, at Mont PeleeI hear dem weeping, wailing, and gnashing their teethA fury of chains clankingAs the ship crashed on the rocks and sankTo the bottom of the seaSombre ghosts stand on the beachLook across the ocean—take us back to Benin!Now, they walk across the landscape at Diamond RockBeating their chests and chanting a salt-water dirge

Meanwhile, across the world, in TromelinA sand spit in the Indian OceanAnse Cafard repeats itselfBut a child named Moise, MosesIs saved from the waterAnd he is placed on a raftSomehow, guided by ocean currents,He will find his wayTo Fort-de-FranceAnd paint the scenes of his destiny

Ra Ra from DahomeyRa Ra from HaitiRa Ra in Fort de FranceRa Ra blowing onto the Caribbean SeaToward Saint LucieAnd La DominiqueWay up to les Iles des ViergesAnd down to the tip of VenezuelaCreating the archipelago of sounds

And then a boyFourteen years oldPierces the airWith the fury from his trumpetAnd suddenly the Cacique Bohechio stirs from his sleepRubs his eyes [End Page 81] Grasps his conch shellAnd blows a message to HatueyTo Louverture, Dessalines, Christophe, Cecile FatimanAnd huracan blows his breath over the sea, hurricane a come!Meanwhile, Anacaona, on the tallest point of AyitiWhirlwinds a final dance for independenceRa Ra!Ra Ra!Ra Ra!Ra Ra! [End Page 82]

Shots Rang Out On My Street...