Sweetcorn

Isabella Mead

Rwanda, 2014

They appear at my doorway every morning:
golden parcels, encased in leaves; sometimes
avocadoes, peas. I don’t know the reason,
maybe a greeting. I never hear him

though later, perhaps, I’ll catch him walking
under banana trees, where the track widens:
the careful step, the stick, the tightened shawl,
as children dip down and run by and high-five:

Papa Fabrice!” The traditional custom
of calling a father after his first-born
always stayed with him, though no one knows
a young Fabrice, where he is now.

At the market I try to catch his eye,
detect a smile – but I’m caught up in greetings,
patriotic songs and praise to the heavens,
pleas for language exchange, conversation –

later, bent over his crop, I see him
divining the huddled husks in the earth,
pinching at kernels to test for the ripening.
We shake hands, no more. Twenty years ago

he chose to stop speaking. That’s the day
no one remembers; eyes will glaze over,
turn to the hills and gaze at the sun.
That night he roasts little pieces of corn

while sounds of the evening crowd the hut:
incessant crickets, fidgets of wagtails,
the murmur of cows, the cries of the crows,
mosquitoes crooning the candlelight

and night gives over to swift sequences:
a perfected cartwheel, a rushed row of sums,
lopsided hopscotch, a wash in a stream,
a broken tooth, a falling leaf,

the flash of a satchel or sandals in dust,
the snatch of a laugh. Papa Fabrice
sits on a bench in an empty room,
segments of sweetcorn disassembling the dark.