Posted by: Viola | May 31, 2013

My Poem “Hunger Flew With Me”

Hunger Flew With Me from Cameroon     

by Viola Allo

I wept at the littoral airport in Douala,
said goodbye to my friends, felt them fade away
at takeoff, as the lumpish green of rain forest
was consumed by ivory clouds. I sifted through

tiny packages of yogurt, pudding, and cheese,
curious for something, a familiar taste; wondered if this
would be the food of my new life: too sweet, too soft, too weak
in flavor. Stowed in the belly of the plane, my edible luggage

sent comfort to me like clean air through the vents—my spices,
my culinary companions culled for my student days
in White-Man Country. I inhaled the cold air at O’Hare, tried hard
to exhale the floral scent of Americans, as the customs officer

stamped my passport and said, Welcome to the United States!
I rode in a box, a narrow lift, up four floors
to sleep off my jet lag in an apartment I could not leave
because my brother said, You might get shot if you do.

I opened my searched luggage right away to find
that my Cameroonian food was gone, bent over and into my bags,
my face a dusky African mask with gaping mouth, stuck my nose
into the tailored clothes I’d brought, trying to breathe in

the dizzying dust of crayfish and country-onions, balmy odor
of smoked fish and bitter-leaf, singular incense folded
into the African prints my friends had packed for me,
combed through the gifts and keepsakes—cowhide purses,

woven goods, woodcarvings—all acrid, angry-scented
like fermented cassava, sniffed for nutty traces of the njangsa
my aunt had ground for pepper soup, licked the flakes
of embargoed spices from the creases in my bags,
carried them on my tongue.

***

By Viola Allo. All rights reserved. “Hunger Flew With Me from Cameroon” published in the American River Review 2010, as well as in “plain china” (April 2011), and featured on the Brunel University African Poetry Prize website for the 2013 prize shortlist.

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