At the Centre

Afua Cooper

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Today doves flew from my head

and my hair grew

the longing is gone from my body

and I’m filled with peace, perfect peace

 

No longer shall I speak of electrocuted poets

or the ones who inhaled gas until

they danced in the dizziness of death

but of brown women

who turn the soil with their hands

making vegetable gardens and tending fruit trees

 

Today I went into my storehouse

selected the choicest oil and anointed my body

wrapped myself in the rarest cloth

of a deep wine red

stood at my front gate

and words poured from my mouth in flaming chants

 

Today the craftsman has come

to make a design for me

of a woman sitting in deep repose

with doves flying from her head

He has made all the pieces, and they fit

well together

I shall hang it at my window for all the world to see

“At the Centre” Copper Woman: And Other Poems. Copyright © 2007 Afua Cooper. Reprinted with permission of Dundurn Press Limited.

Source: Copper Woman: And Other Poems (Natural Heritage Books, 2006).

Dive in: 
  1. The word “peace” is used twice in the first stanza. What other words or images throughout the poem feel restful to you?
  2. What does the speaker say the craftsman has come to do? Who do you think the craftsman is – a literal person or something else?
  3. Dr. Afua Cooper is well known for educating and evaluating the historical context of enslaved Africans in her poems. How does the theme of liberation show up in the poem? Think creatively, socially, financially, emotionally, spiritually, etc.
  4. What is the overall tone of the poem? Is it hopeful? Excited? Assertive? Are there any shifts in tone within the poem? If so, where are they?
  5. Dr. Cooper is an internationally celebrated Dub Poet. Dub Poetry is spoken word orature influenced by music, most often reggae rhythms originating in Dr. Cooper’s homeland, Jamaica. Try reciting this poem over a metronome as your guide and choose moments that feel right, melodic or groovy, to echo words or repeat lines of the poem. See if you can catch a flow!
  6. Peacefulness, like other feelings and emotions, is generally felt for short periods or in brief instances. It can also be attained with effort and intention. Create a list of things you can do in the span of 15 minutes to attain a peaceful, creative and nurturing state of mind for yourself. Choose 3 or 4 items that stand out to you the most and write a poem that uses the first person voice “I” and begins a new stanza for each activity described.

 

Useful Links

Read more about the dynamics of Dub Poetry: http://thebestofreggae.com/what-is-dub-poetry/

Watch Dr. Afua Cooper perform her dub poem “Africa Wailing”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1xphrakNyw&t=16s

Dr. Cooper was inspired to write about the real-life experiences of enslaved children from the African Diaspora. Her novel My Name is Phillis Wheatley: A Story of Slavery and Freedom was awarded the Beacon of Freedom Award. Listen to her read from it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1WVP1k3QXM&index=21&list=PLc3iBUyifLGyK...

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