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  • Writer's pictureafricmcglinchey

breaking free

Updated: Nov 20, 2020


The hearse driver accelerates, whips clear of the potholes,

and the sedate procession is forced to chase after him,

dipping and weaving like a footballer sprinting for a winning goal.

This race to the death, I can tell, is one that the hearse will win.

My only desire is for the corpse to remain safe in his lidded coffin.

Eventually, way past the airport, after myriad roads,

we reach a sandy track to the grave site.

Brisk commerce in action. The place could be a stadium.

Lines of women are cooking some murderous greens,

chatting casually to their colleagues.

Some offer basins of insects – a mass of still-wriggly legs, already fried

crispy, spiced with pimon.

Makélélé, they say. Like the footballer.

Dirty hands stir through the squirming mass,

to highlight their living attractiveness.

The crowds stand around on the graves,

respect for the already dead and buried, hidden from view.

I am pushed to the head of the procession,

some form of honour, I guess, as the only white present.

Children run to sell water and maps to get out of here.

One raggedy pair of shorts, lurid red T-shirt,

drops into the open grave.

Another casually finishes a mango, then hustles in after him.

Flip-flops does some dexterous maneuvering.

A pair of ropes would lower their voices,

but tools of the lazy seem not to be necessary.

The pastor chooses a pinch of pimon,

lovingly strokes heads through the graveyard.

And death, I think, shall have no order,

as the eulogy is all but drowned out by a row

over pay between the three grave-diggers.

The swearing is all in Lingala, but even I can follow.

No one tells ‘Go Dodgers Go’

to jump into a semblance of deference.

In any case, people split up, drift slowly out through the cemetery,

thinning the listeners.

So. So. This is a funeral in the Democratic

Republic of Congo.

In my head, an array of deceased uncles and aunts and my parents,

some unfortunate friends, become vocal.

And in the furore, a spirit breaks free,

like a bird. Like Makélélé.


One of my aims in writing and sharing these lockdown poems is to connect our global stories. Thanks to my cousin, Robert Dagge for the story that prompted this one.

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