Slash and Burn

You may have this section of bush to farm
From here to here, all the way back to that tree
Bring machetes and axes and hoes to clear it
Stack the slash in piles for burning
When the fire consumes the piles and the smoke clears
Have your women till the ashes into the red soil
Watch their muscles rippling, buttocks protruding
Bent almost as double as the hoes they hold
Eager for the seed you spread so close behind them
Heaping fertile earth into mounds for yams and cassava
Rows for maize and beans to sprout when the rains come.

Keep the soil loose and free of weeds and it will bear
As many harvests as the gods intend you
When it grows old and toothless and the withered
Mounds can no longer feed you stop weeding
And let it grow back to the bush it was before
I will mark another section for you to
Clear and burn and till and sow and reap until
It too has worn itself out and no longer bears for you
Then I will assign new ground for your old wives and
Virgin daughters to till and you and your sons to sow behind
As our people have done for generations.

But first I must ask you to gather up containers
Any kind you can find and meet the others
At the new road where a tanker carrying diesel
Has overturned and spilled its precious cargo
Over the tarmac into the ditches on either side
The more fuel we can capture the longer we can run
The generator that provides us with light at night
For radio and television and DVDs and cell phone charges
And air conditioning the houses of your chief
When you have filled your containers, bring them here
To fill the communal storage tank.

And I must caution you not to smoke while collecting
Lest we lose our entire windfall.

2014 Jim Ramsay, all rights reserved.