Outside Ngaoundere

—after Dante

While driving above the valley, along a rut
of road, I saw the river dropping into an abyss—
couldn’t gaze below for the trees, the thickly woven

curtain of brush and millet stalks, but knowing I must
find a way, must find the place where the falling river
meets the earth, I searched until the gateway revealed

its mouth to me, the break in the growth through which
the steam rose, and I heard the roar somewhere down
its muddy path, the path I stumbled down for an hour,

slipping on rock and root, sliding when I lost my
footing, the sludge chuckling at my feeble attempts
to resist—I hardly had the time to stand before

I saw that I had emerged onto a steep bank,
and there before me was the whirlpool, the cloud
of mist that hissed a warning to those who approached,

and its wall of falling water, coming down as if from sky.
I felt my way along the pool’s edge, where the foam,
once churned, now came to collect on my soaked shoes.

I risked submersion but for the promise of land—
a peninsula breaking out from the cliff, into the roar
of the water. Climbing, I crept up this risen island,

this rock of two trees, broken baskets, abandoned shoe;
this rock of effrontery firmly fixed in swirls
lapping its sides, reaching for my ankles.

In the midst of the steam, the roar, the water
that somehow rained yet remained the same,
I stood and found myself in its center.

About the author

Aaron Brown grew up in northern Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, and now calls the Washington, DC area home, though he's not quite…

Read the full bio

Issue 22 · April 2015

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