To José Craveirinha,
The poet was looking at the walls of his cell which were once white. With the handle of the spoon he inscribed words, giving vent to his agony.
Sometimes his gaze was veiled by a trickle of blood running down his face from a reopened wound at his corrugated eyebrow.
He had repeated only his name, a so-called Zé Ninguém, of a paternal memory nobody. But in his veins ran the rivers of his homeland, Maputo, Limpopo, Zambezi, Rovuma … of his mother, a southern girl that love had brought into the arms of his father, a poor immigrant.
He still heard in his head the poignant sound of a fado his father used to sing with the guitar.
In the heart, the beating of drums echoing in “bitter silence” of his neighborhood made of wood and zinc.
He hadn’t said anything else. Not the names of those who he wanted to reach on that slow train crossing the border, not the places where they met or the actions they were preparing.
To forget the shots, the pain, he repeated his verses the ones that had incriminated him.
Almost a smile on his broken lips.
So even tyrants, stupid dumb people, knew the power of poetry, knew how a poem, read or repeated mouth to mouth, could comfort, lift the spirits, shout justice, freedom!
Now he had no paper to write on, small pieces of paper that his wife would take outside hidden in her neckline.
The poems became short, incisive, scathing so she could memorize them on the rare occasions that she was allowed to see him.
His incriminated books, his “dangerous”, authors his wife had hidden them carefully from the police raids, not even he knew where they were. He knew that one day he would find them, he would read them to his grandchildren so that they would breathe in beauty and freedom.
He would have wanted to dye the walls with the colors of the painter in the next cell, a dangerous subversive too, and also black, who painted dancers and faces screaming oppression, colors of their land, the green of the savannah after the rain, the red of the sand and of the lion, the brown of the skin and of the baobab, the geometries of the capulanas that the women wrapped to their waists.
They would have restored memory and impetus to his dulled senses when they brought him back to his cell after interrogations.
It would have wanted the prison walls to spread out into a football field where he could run and throw a ball so that his numb and painful limbs would reacquire strength.
Of his wife there was now only the trace of a plate of upshwa that the jailer stirred as if trying to find out who knows what secret. And the vision of her in the kitchen, her precious silky hair wrapped in a handkerchief, her skillful hands chopping leaves and onion, pounding peanuts. And him sitting at the very small table – how many times they had said that – writing in a notebook just to be close to her and occasionally stealing her a smile.
Maria. Where would that smile be now, the no longer responded smile, not with the neighbors who look away or the friends who no longer say hello.
Certainly you keep it inside, while waiting every day at the prison’s gate. You release in a challenge to the cops who would like to turn you away.
Maria. Bride sister companion of every day and of those to come.
You know, Maria, that they will not break me, that you will still wrap me in the” brown and blonde caress of your love” and that the “certainty of peace” of our love will no longer be just a hope.
(in Anna Fresu, Looking at the other, 2016, translated by Diana Nanoos)
Anna Fresu was born in la Maddalena, off of the island of Sardinia and has a literature degree from the university of Rome. . She is a theater director, actress, translator and scholar of African literatures. In 1975 she worked in Portugal as cultural mediator. From 1977 to 1988 she lived in Mozambique where she taught and directed the National Theatre School as well as created and co-directed the “Department of Cinema for Children and Young Adults” and made several films that received international awards. In 2013 she published the short story collection Sguardi Altrove, Vertigo Edizioni and in 2018 she published the poetry collection Ponti di corda, Temperino Rosso Edizioni. Her poems, short stories, and articles are included in many anthologies and online literary journals. In Argentina she taught Italian language and Culture and the University of Mendoza and put on several plays. She currently lives in Forlì, Italy.
The image featured in the post cover is a drawing by José Craveirinha’s cell mate, Mozambican painter Malangatana, courtesy of Anna Fresu.