Praying to Coca Cola

Day 15 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one from the “Back in the Colonies” section, near “Dialogue with an Angel“). This poem was inspired by my 2013 trip to Ghana with the Charlottesville-Winneba Foundation. So was “Gold Coast,” a poem in my first poetry book about being dragged out into the riptides by a group of men. This poem is about the equally impressive force of cargo cult, a phenomenon of seeking to explain, rationalize (albeit with religious rationale and ritual), and ultimately control the uncontrollable, foreign (even to us natives) military-industrial force of modern Western conquest.

“Praying to Coca Cola”
Winneba, Ghana

In the cargo cult of African Christianity
with its God Bless You Bank, Jesus Christ is King Laundry, and White
Smile 
Dentistry—
the initiated worship with their elect brethren. God judges; man pities.
Every week the power goes out (rations), every month a tourist drowns
(natural causes), and every year the politicians visit (sister cities).
It’s the big city—but it’s the same here as all the other big towns.

One day the children will read books in air-conditioning, and eat oranges.
For now cassava will do. Some already read—with their ears, it’s true.
One day the library will stand in this grove. Let us pray.
Soon enough, all the visitors will go home. Not today.
Let us pray for more donations. And more sisterly formations.

When one of the young ones complains, remind her it would look bad
for even a black American girl to disrespect her post-colonial dad.
Keep on joking about your wives, thrusting in air, drinking your cultural
beer.
Collecting money to break ground on the same library each year.
Putting on a ceremonial show to hunt, but never catch, the sacred deer.

But cargo cult lives just as much there as here.
American cargo cult is America First.
Napolean Hill, the best of the worst.
The Seven Habits of Highly Rich Bastards
to get your boots licked just like the Master’s.
Having faith is one of the greatest hazards.

Keeps you going to work, keeps your head to the grind.
It’s not new to say it’s the opiate of the mind.
If I can just learn how Andrew Carnegie brushed his teeth
and lie down when Oprah goes to bed,
then I can rest my wealthy head—
put the knife that cuts me while I wield it, back into its sheath.

What the more obviously conquered know
that the precariat will learn, fast or slow,
is that warplanes made of twigs turn out to bear neither candy nor
cigarettes.
Machine gunfire beats the best warriors sprinkled with the holiest water.
Half-coconut headphones, bamboo antennae, runways drawn in
unmeasured dirt—
all the magic papers and words will bring no roaring silver birds, only night
sweats.
The secret is never revealed. Should we have sacrificed the other daughter?
That the great delivery never comes is bound to cause a little hurt,
while we deny our foolishness and continue digging in the dirt.

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