Return of No Return by Kwesi Brew

The following three poems form the centerpiece of Kwesi Brew's Return of No Return, a collection published in 1995. They were written as part of an ongoing conversation with his friend and fellow poet Maya Angelou who he had first met 30 years earlier when she emigrated to Ghana from the USA. "No Return" was his nickname for her and a reference to the Door of No Return that featured in the slave castles that saw the earlier exile of the Middle Passage and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Don Diego at Edina (Elmina)

At the confluence of tempers, the sweet, slow, the Surowi quick,
To serve the majesty of the sea
The Surowi joins allegiance with the Sweet River at Ituri.
Here once a goblet of cut crystal
From which the fierce sun drew beams of white light,

Blue light, red, and gold, scintillating like unsheathed rapiers,
The imperial servant of Prince Henry the Navigator,
Don Diego D'Azambuja slaked his thirst
After his long and salty voyage from Portugal.
While his tongue savoured these strange sweet waters
The questing wisdom of Kwamina Ansa, Edina's King
Pondered his fear of strangers with swords
Bedecked'with emeralds, diamonds, sapphires, and gold,
Gold, gold, and gold worked by master gold-smiths.
The sea was quiescent like a face concentrated in thought.

And the brown in the King's eyes thickened darkly over
The presage of gold on hands of iron, gold, gold, gold.
Will there be enough gold to dampen these fierce appetites,
Will there be enough gold, Kyeame?

There is nothing of pageants about this river:
Quiet, unassuming, and inward-looking,
King Ansa, thought of its waters. But these waters,
These waters will one day refresh friends gold has turned into enemies

If there was no room at the inn for Him, Nana thought,
There should be no place on these shores for Diego!

Don Diego at Edina - Elmina

A rumble of thunder passed unheard
Across the sky: No rain, Oh no, no rain.
A cloud passed and threw a comforting shadow
Between us and the blaze of the sun.

The eyes of Don Diego were of the black of unfired coal
With the tinder buried in their smoldering depths.
In their dark, dark shadows
Where the sun is dark and silent
(As it was to the blind bard of Paradise)
The King discerned a pile of gold on a cask of rum.
Against the walls leaned slim and elegant dane guns
With the shine of newness glowing ominously through the gloaming;
Short, rotund kegs of gun-powder and pellets
Stood sentry round the musketry
Weighing their burden of destruction against the evil day
When brother shall fight against brother
And breaking through the engulfing darkness
With the light of searching torches
Recognize each other only as merchandise for bauble.
But the chains that were to bind body and soul
Of his scions across the foaming breakers to painful diaspora    
Were kept in the darkest corners
Out of range of mind and inner eye,
So that it might come to pass the evil thoughts of their hearts
And the lies of those hypocrites
Impaled on a crucifix of smiles.

Don Diego at Edina (Elmina)

"The Great Rebuff"

The King's eye turned to look across the sea
Searching the purple distance marking out the horizon,
Where the waters of sea brought these men
From a dim kingdom who are now suppliants
Seeking land for settlement,
Only a small corner of the tertiary rock
Where the sea-weeds grew and no hoe can till.
In a land where trees grow and springs flow.

They sat motionless waiting for an answer.

The sea was quiescent like a face concentrated in thought
And the sea-gulls screamed like demented children burning in a fire.

When the king's gaze returned to land they sat there
As trees planted in the soil of the land and
Sprouting roots with the glide of the sun.

Again he looked upon the sea, and the sea told nothing;
The sea that had borne them to these shores knew nothing.
For all was there to say in the noble spirit of the people.

His eyes fell on the sea
And he saw as for the first time a flotilla of ships
Anchored in the road and being nuzzled by trusty dug-outs;
Saw the waves churned to white fury
Breaking upon a rock barring their path.
Relentless beating, brutal savagery
Had split the rock now worn and pock-marked.

Like the green breezes that temper the heat of the sun
The spirits of our ancestors came to him.
And Kwamina Ansa saw his Kyeame, his spokesman,
The wrinkles on his lips have notched
The passage of wise counsel over the years
That have poured blessings on a head
Now white as a field of ripened sugar grass.
With hands lying secure in the calm of his laps
He inclines his head in gentle courtesy to whisper.

Remember, Nana, temptation's honour is disgrace.
The stranger seeks the nether edge of your bed
To snatch your pillow for his head
when sleep overtakes your wakeful care.

Azambuja looked on.

Tell them, Kyeame tell them,
Friends who met but seldom,
Til death parts them.
Savoured the sweetness of untroubled friendship.
The nature of human heart wreaks its mischief
Upon close neighbours each smoldering with his own craving
From unfulfilled desires burst forth consuming anger

Many years passed into centuries
And as part of our flesh to part of Africa's soil
Wherever we go, far or near,
The soul still yearns for the places
Where the umbilical cords of our forebears
Were buried by their mothers:
Nostalgia is the umbilical cord stretched
To painful lengths.   

The Return Of The Native

(To My Dearest Sister, Dr. Maya Angelou)

There are dungeons in the Cape Coast Castle
Now without their cast-iron gates
Where, all the evil spirits of slavers, pirates, and bucaneers
Suspended head-down in brown incarceration
Under the frowning vigilance
Of Nana Tabir, the first of equals among the tutelar gods,
Seventy-seven, of this ancient town of Efutu;
There in dank misery condemned to be unsunned
For the period of their lives
And the lives of generations after them and those after them

Till the end of time; judged and condemned
Theirs souls are coffined in the bodies of the bats,
Whose eyes burn like smouldering coals but see nothing.
And they languish as bats in that hole.
Where they can hear the hissing and booing of the rollers
Of the Atlantic Sea
But sail on it no more; No passage for the wicked, says the Sea.
There in that dungeon they stagnate.
In the worm-infested turpitude of their crimes;
And the worms multiply by leaps and years;
And tadpoles scorn the pollution of the puddle.
Only the mosquito, guerrilla of days,
Immerses its larvae hanging them aslant in the water
With their probosces drawing pure air for life
To gain life to destroy life of intruders:
Thus our land was saved.
Not for them any more the cool comfort of the crescent
Smile of the moon as it glides across the silvery expanse
Of the heavens.
Beaming its chubby matronly approval on pale nights
Upon the maidens playing ampe, lithe flicks of black legs
In the lucency of happy and open hours, full of song,
And cheered by cracking reports of clapping hands:


Not for them the leisurely sight of old men,
Scions of the blind days drowning the shame
Bequeathed to them by our forebears
As our share of the burden
In endless games of oware:
The pebbles, they drop by tally pensively into the holes
As men descending into the murk of graves,
Are moistened by remorse.


How can we explain should they want to know
What crimes, what new crimes, they committed to bring on themselves
This punishment heavier and more damning
Than the wages of sin:
What if the cruel yoke had broken bone and soul
And none had lived to tell the tale.
But there are no hard thoughts here as blood flows into blood.
Where two minds meet in soft sessions of harmony
Peace is born, love, and jov
For if the happenings of the past
Could be unravelled by the mind of man
we would all be God;
One seed of maize would not be planted to rot
For us to take a cob grinning with
Four hundred and twenty seeds at harvest
And Joseph would not have been the ruler of Egypt
In the time of famine   
To feed father and the brothers who sold Rim into bondage And glory.


Today those who made the grim passage
Now with sandalled feet, heads sparkling
With gold-studded fillets; aggrey beads on their wrists;
Clothed in the spendour of their indomitable spirit;
Our kinsmen, have crossed the threshold,
Drank the water of welcome and are seated
On their stools of precious wood
Telling their story   
In the compounds of their ancestral homes.


The children of Adam have come to see their kinsmen:
Like the great heavens of African evenings
The shade of the doorways are peopled
With bright and shining curiosity:
The children are whispering their regrets
For five hundred years is a long time to be gone.


The gold rings, the outdooring gift of belonging,
They held in the palm of the hands,
Their fingers are too gnarled and knotted
By beast labour for painless decoration.


Now are we free
Being sons and daughters of God;
Free people with one destiny.


Wrapped in the fearless colours
Of our kente, the pride of our loom
Here we stand,
United in heart in mind and in blood
And none so bold,
None daring-and none dares,
To make slaves of us again!

by Kwesi Brew from Return of No Return (1995)

See also Poetry as Cultural Memory