LISA MARIA BURGESS
HomeChildren's BooksPublicationsEventsPoemAbout

I will not return. I will say goodbye to this beauty
as I have to others before: I will laugh and greet
a new face as I have others before.
Rocoroibo, Tlalpan, Mitla, Ixmiquilpan, El Paso, 
Lenexa, New Fairfield, Waltham, Beijing, St. Paul, 
St. Petersburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Manassas, Port Elizabeth, 
Rockville, Libreville, Kigali, Dar es Salaam….

Dar, my beloved, the sun rises above 
the edge of your sea to light dhows, ships, 
palms, and cars winding into your city.  
My eyes take joy in Coconuts bowing along 
the beach, the Neem, unremarkable but ready to heal, 
the Ashok guarding the streets, their backs straight, 
the Baobabs, otherworldly, like elephants, surprising 
at each turn, the Frangipani blooming fragrance, 
the twined Figs offering sun-flecked shade.  
The sun fires the hills beyond the city, 
illuminating students walking to class or seated 
'neath trees, bent over books. The translucent green 
of the leaves is luminous in the morning light and the sky 
glints with Tanzanite depths of blue. Sublime.  
The evening moon rises to light anchored 
ships and people, tacking rapidly like dhows  
pointed home. But my heart is not anchored.
In seeing your beauty, I am already closing my eyes.
In adding your worth, I am already counting my loss:
Sun, sea, beach, trees, streets,
People…

                 William tells me that memories of this place
will walk with me and sustain me when I go.
If today I observe carefully, if I open my senses
to the sea breeze, whispering leaves, and students
under the trees, then their sublimity will tomorrow
provide tranquil restoration, harmony, joy, 
as they appear before the inner eye,
nourish my heart and fuel acts of kindness.
Not so, I say.

                        Memory works otherwise.
My heart is nourished by yet unresolved grief.
Listen. “The still, sad music of humanity”
within me sings of loss and leaving, never
the joy of a harmony beyond song or the belonging 
which celebrates a sacred fusion with an ancient land
and its people. Never.  

                                     My heart sings Rocoroibo.
Beloved, the sun rises above the ridge
of your mountain to illuminate fields of maize, new 
green, across the valley. As the sun rises,
its beams waterfall down the hills to the creek
murmuring its drills around immense boulders;
the beams slide up the banks to the low stone wall, 
dew covered grass, my father’s adobe house,
the pine shingled roof, the dappled forest 
behind. In response, the smoke of morning fires
and tortillas rises both from the house across 
the valley and ours. Bells jingle, the dogs 
stretch, a girl follows goats to pasture. Thirty 
years ago, I left this valley. I said 
goodbye to Hulali, matriarch of the valley, wielder 
of the plow, guardian of goats, strength, and knowledge…
goodbye to mossy stones, to red Paint-brush
flowering in the shale, to cactus on stone outcrops…
goodbye to Madrones with white-lined red bark, 
to creek Willows, to big-dipper Oaks, to weeping 
Pines, to stately, pitchy Ponderosas… to earth, 
stones, boulders, mountains. We hiked out
of the valley. My father took a photo of me, smiling,
sunlight gilding my braids, my fingers sifting 
through the pine needles, the valley behind.  
Behind. I knew: This is the photo of me 
never returning. Did you know, beloved, did you?
I knew, and yet I left.

                                      Does anyone return?
Bring him back, my in-laws direct the future, 
not through spoken words but through discussion
of other deaths, other bodies. The ancestors
await in Ouidah . No matter where death has cut 
the soul’s umbilical cord. There is no other 
home, there is no other resting place.  
Rest. Let us rest in Samachique say my mother’s parents.  
Decades after they have left the valley of their ideals, 
their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren gather 
their ashes, carry urns across borders by airplane, car, 
and foot to the Sierra, to the top of a hill overlooking 
the valley and their house above the creek and shower
their ashes into the mountain wind. Are they happy 
now, resting in the arms of their beloved, the valley
they so longed for?

                                 William returned to his River Wye, 
at least once, if not again. I never 
return. I fear return. The valley will have changed; 
I will have changed. No hope for return, no hope 
for residence, no hope for respite. My place of stasis
will never be the evident land of my present.
Always an exile, always I long for the valley
of my childhood – my Sierra Madre. I will say to my sons, 
let me rest in Rocoroibo. Take my ashes, borrow an ox, 
and plough my body into the clods. I will join forces
with goat droppings to renew the grass and the maize;
never will I leave a place again. Never 
say goodbye my beauty, my beloved, goodbye. Never.
And in that moment, the grief will pass, the past
will be present: I will be of the earth, I will be the earth.

And so, with the sun in my eyes, I contemplate
an expected departure whose date is not yet fixed…. 

Lines Composed beside Nkruma Hall,
On contemplating departure from Dar es Salaam, June 3, 2009
by Lisa Maria Burgess
with thanks to William Wordsworth’s
“Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour July 13, 1798.”

William Wordsworth was interested in the relationship between the poet and the landscape and between the poet and rural peoples. I never paid too much attention to his works until I took up a post at the University of Dar es Salaam, where the Department of Literature asked me to teach British Romantic poetry. And so, as I thought about my relationship with the lands and peoples of Tanzania, I had the occasional conversation with Mr. Wordsworth. This is one of those conversations.