by Martha Jane Petersen

Elmina’s slave castle
shades our car as we park and sweat.
Nearby, the granny frying plantain over charcoal
sees us, limps to our car and offers
pieces wrapped in newspaper.
Her smile reveals one tooth.
We shake our heads behind the car window.

Fishmongers arrive, wrapped in skirts of African print.
From their heads, they lower their enamel pans of fresh fish.
They sort them to sell.
Six fishermen sit and mend their blue nets
with flying fingers, singing as they work.

In the lagoon’s muck,
pot-bellied children flit
in and out among the painted canoes,
drying in the sun’s oven
which swells the stink of fish and sea.

Or is it despair I smell?
Or is it only my despair?
I sit behind my car window
longing for the tide to sweep
all the flies and rags out to sea.

But look: someone’s laughing!

Martha Jane Petersen is a retired Presbyterian minister living in Black Mountain, North Carolina, where she is a creator of art quilts. She and her husband lived in Ghana with their three children for ten years, and in Nigeria for three. While in West Africa she wrote articles, educational materials, and poems primarily for church publications, along with a novel.

About Elmina—While visiting Elmina’s slave castle in the early months of our Ghanaian sojourn, I was struck by the level of poverty in which many people lived. Still, they plied a trade, sang, played, and even laughed. This set the stage for me to view African life through an ambiguous lens.