Issue 28 – Summer 2017 – Baba Badji

Baba Badji


from Ghost Letters

Whipped ghosts from Kilimanjaro are tracking a dream.  My body split open when mothers cast their ballots.  A village appointment room.  I leave and I shall not return except with proper nightmares. You sat home & waited for my arrival.  I never arrived home to you.   L’écroulement de ma naissance.  They dip their fingers in ink. With oblique meanness.  A meanness that would not yield for years.    Fatéwoumala.  Bring bread & groundnuts to workers.  They don’t know these workers.  Blue snake, black bodies, yellow sun, and ghosts from Nile have been lost.  Cruelty from bodies protect us from day of ruin!   I cross borders for my poor blood crumbling in blue & black soil.  Yara said I must forgive.  Like a new god.  Un ciel décoloré de cristal.   Evil throwing its shadow to snake.  We have nothing left.  A brute broke my body.  A brute broke your heart.   In deluge, I fall with ghosts.  They told me I must wait for the flood to travel ahead.  La mort d’un amour.  African faces turned into Gods is a work done by Master Thief.  He left me with sick children.  Master Thief left me mud.  African faces turned into Art for a museum is work done by Master thief.    Le paradis de la nuit.  The river is poisonous.  I color my world in grief.  I am not allowed to say words for home.  I am not allowed to say words of my skin.  Words of my skin.  Farms are burned black.  Fables disappeared.  A beast unlocked my chest & filled my trunk with indigo spirit.   La joie du travail nouveau.Blue ghosts in America  shut paradise and hook their prayers in clouds.  Drunk from mud &  water in the calabash. As I keep sick owls company, I serve them bread and cheese.  Santa sama yayboy. Not all that strange to think of ghost mother, gone forever, gone while I was a boy
                                                                                                                 unknown sees secrets
                                                                        when loneliness and beauty strike 
                                              comfort nothing 
                    ache and complete despair 
                                            the double mask leaping from the depth of my anguish 
                                            killing me
                                                       dying a slave death 
                                                                    whipped dangerously 
                                                                                            I have never been whipped severely 
                                                                    dying a black death 
                                                                                 and hanged I don’t know where 
                                                                                              afraid of America 
                                                      my solitary cage cracks
                                                                  my lonely body cracks  
                                up to my black throat / America seize 
                                           a burned black boy from the streaming rice fields
                                                                                                                                years to free me 
                                                                                                                     over confession
                                                                  obviousness & gratitude 
                                                                                                        lingering & turning aside 
                                                                                                                               for     blue     Gods’     sharpening 
                                                                                                                               nouveau laws 
                                                                              trapped in mesh 
                                                                                                                 I can’t explain 
                                                                                                       I horribly kiss
                                                                                                       zeal of my youth before I sink.

Tapestry for My Faith

I want to tell you about nights at home in the Bronx.    
A family evicted over aroma of SENEGALESE DISH,

Ripening to ghost, Mother weeps as palm
Oil spreads its scent, in a saucepan.

Colorful smells linger on halls. 
I mean flamboyant African smell lingered. 
Months on & on & on. 

Mr. Williams, our American landlord nagged
at my stepmother about smells & rent.

December 12, & my stepmother was pregnant with Salimata.
What seems after all to have been progress.

Is there anything more wonderful 
Than vines growing to snakes, 
Beside long the Casamance River & owls 
taking flight to do work at night?

Of course America is dominant in the wars at night.

Sitting somewhere public. Maybe in New York City, 
I cry for the odors of remembered stony hills & malaise
of Dakar in whose happy roars I bathe.

Mother’s perfume inside my childhood, 
my stepmother abandoned & now so difficult to trace.

If I come from a sacred village, the Deaf 
Drummer knows my song. Maybe I’ll be ready

To grieve in Dakar, maybe it is all right to be afraid.  
Life in America is a collection of flamingo’s graves.


I was baptized with faithful blankets.  How can I unknot my wounded Double Exile?   I am baptized by heavenly nuns.  A body’s loneliness goes way back.  A day I have composed death—in a church & mosque—America mourned.  I suffered & crumbled in marvelous ruins.  Now I mask my skin in ruined cassava gardens.  New chairs in church and mosque are painted black so they won’t be visible in darkness.   Prayer rugs have flowers festooned in them.  Flowers from the garden of Eden.  Here I am haunted by the truth of tedium.  I have built a new blanket for my imagined heaven.  Outsiders enter first. Refugees enter first.  They’ll die to enter.  They are welcomed with figs and cheese.  Au Sénégal, je meurs avec les oiseaux charmeurs. I am at war & barely welcomed by my new home.   Yara speaks to me about womanliness, life and tolerance.  He asks me about men.  I admire his modest soul.   A humble soul I seek.    Handing guards my passport I panicked like all émigrés seeking smiles from other passengers.   The reality of anxiety is still poisoning my body.   I couldn’t speak a word of English.  The guard spoke no Wolof or French.  I spoke Diola & Mende. An irony of seeing a stranger cry for real! I proceeded to a bench assigned to undocumented travelers, but real suffering began when a guard began asking questions.  Waiting for hours. Waiting for days, months, years.  For guards to tell me whether America is my home or not.   Le soleil éclairait mon immense désespoir.   For reasons of this poem I must not say a word, except that my father had never told me I would be questioned before Office X allowed either of us to enter America.  A guard looks not in our eyes, a process that makes us human in a world of boredom.  What happened to freedom?   I ask to use a toilet: it was empty & I wrote struggles & enslavement on its delicate walls. Seems to me that beautiful struggles are freedom.  Ghost mother, too, realizes that my isolation goes way back
                                                                                                                   my childhood has lost 
                                                                                         all its meaning
                                                    my tribe has lost all its value 
                                                                  abandoned a culture
                                                                     a wife & children
                                                                                                    (my mother of course)
carry in a black belly a stream of seeds that fertilize an African tongue 
                                                                                                             tell me about ghost mother 
                                                               faith—for a man she loved 

mother shielded
                                         in her guts— 
                                       for nine months
                                                    bees sting spirit
                                                                                                thunder of our sins
                           America’s self-indulgences 
                                                 I let everything in a body break 
I let everything in a body died 
                                                                                                              America you have let me be



When I die in Africa, the device for nursing
a sick goat & my traumatized skin must be endorsed like 
Master’s allegiance for whipping me. Knock knock whose there? Milkman.
He deadens my grief done by raw paths of arrival.
Sick goat was not more African than I (spare you from death!)
Of Senegalese exotic weeper, a haunting sob is better
then a bamboo flute’s crying to ghosts from the Nile.
One kind of tradition. Fistfuls of mud.  Kankourang’s mask.
Ah! the broken promise & the ruined results! 
In my immaculate kaftan, mother gives me milk. 
It was August. Circumcised beside the river.  In the burning sun. 
Ô! I declare, possibly being oriental is safer. J’ai l’impression 
d’être déraciner. I would want to see dry blood in my gaping
wounds caused by a stung master in plantation meadows.


In Permanent Exile from a Clock Inaccessible Neck

Like this: every morning, 
I think, whether the cane in Senegal 
would fracture its ribcage. 
Let me tell you, I am a misfit,

I am on a border crossing Donald & where 
I traveled, I don’t know someplace, & these 
carefully guarded tears, pure enough to drink,
so long ago, they healed disease.

                                             Coffin Maker & Ghost Mother counseled me to wait for Milkman & 
                          consider the pink Senegalese tongue, 
                  that sketched my carcasses & America’s overcast zenith. 
          Let me fracture a silent place,
where the speed of elegance would never fine me:
The clock is ticking & my mother is drying her long black hair, 
she had been sick for years eating her thoughts & papaya roots, 
taking expired capsules from America, 
sad, ashamed about what results?

In failure, I am stuck between the verandah & white America. 
Uncle Ibrahim called & said her sister collapsed, & is dying.



Born in Senegal, West Africa, Baba Badji is currently a Chancellor’s Fellow and third year Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature, with the Track for International Writers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. His research interests are centered on 20th C American, African, Caribbean, Francophone Studies, Poetry: fixed & free forms, experimentation, Poetics of Exile & Poetics of Blackness, Modernism, Postcolonial Studies. Mr. Badji holds a BA from the College of Wooster, Ohio and received his MFA in poetry & translation from Columbia University, New York City. He is fluent in French, Wolof, Mende and Diola. His first Chapbook, Owls of Senegal was a finalist for The Seattle Review judged by Claudia Rankine. His translation has appeared on The 2014 Pen World Voice Festival. He is working on Ghost Letters and Museum of Exile books of poem in epistolary form exploring up-rootedness, exile, American-ness, Blackness, and African-ness.