Our paths are as old
as the ones worn by mankind.
We carved paths since the beginning, since we departed
our forests of origin and crossed the still-fertile Sahara,
marching to the north, to a Europe in ice,
where nature begged us to trade our melanin for vitamin D
(and so some of us were whitened, a mortal sin
we all pay for, in some shape or form, to this day),
but also to the far-off east;
from there, we continued our epic march
across the Bering Strait,
toward the Americas.
After this unparalleled anthropological adventure
when we agreed our foundational mission
had been carried out,
certain men we had already long-forgotten
arrived and carried us off in dark and formidable galleys
to the other side of the world, where
new work awaited us: clearing forests,
planting prepubescent fields
and harvesting their fertile fruits,
mining gold, diamonds, emeralds,
digging out iron from the bowels of the earth
and forging it with the art of our ancestors,
herculean tasks that we performed
as we were dying, fighting, making music,
dancing and loving each other,
even loving those who, presumptuous and foolish,
thought themselves our veritable and eternal masters.
In this way we peopled the world,
forging peoples, nations, cultures.
All we needed for our work to be complete
was to reclaim our still occupied lands,
and remake them in the likeness of our ancestors.
One day we woke up and said:
those who came here without being invited
on a pale foggy morning with their scurvy,
their flu, their syphilis and their greed
will have to go, because we don’t want them among us;
we need no longer leave this circle
traced by the shadow of the baobabs that had been here
since before we were born
or by the bright flames of the bonfires
we gathered around every night
to tell of our past, explain it to our young ones,
and envision the future;
we will be here or we won’t;
those who were forced to flee, to forge new nations
far away from the reach of our embrace,
will be able to return, if they wish; and
furious, beautiful, magnificent,
What we didn’t know is fighting is simple,
winning is achievable,
but most improbable is knowing
what to do with the victory.
Sixty years later, we still blame the past.
We stay stuck to the mirror,
but we hesitate over which side we should choose.
We invoke our ancestors
and our traditions that we ourselves
along the way, deliberately or
not; in truth
we never recognized them: when we were born,
they were already unrecognizable, vilified
as they were; but they help us, today,
to justify our ignoble and hidden dream:
to take the seat of our old masters,
with all its trappings and implications
instead of suppressing it and forever erasing it from history,
like we promised our children.
Our souls dried up.
Yes, we have stopped in the face of time,
paralyzed and perplexed.
At times we seem to move forward,
but we go back to being haunted by old doubts and,
most of all,
the same dark dreams.
The old gods watch us in horror,
because we no longer speak their language.
Our children have stopped believing in us.
So they leave again. They cross
deserts, cast themselves to sea,
in fragile vessels guided purely
by the compass of despair, cross borders
through underground tunnels,
beg for compassion, call for asylum,
invent new identities, ready
to forsake everything – past and above all the present –
in the name of the future that was denied them.
So here they are, making their way as they can
down the avenues, streets and alleys
of the foreign cities that receive them
with fear and rage:
some look proud, reclaiming the brilliance
and historical splendor that had always defined them,
seek protection from shadows and
from twisting paths to escape that ancient hate
that pursues them to this day, even though
they shine brightly as the first men
(who, remember, we all come from).
Today we continue our venture
down the different paths of the world,
and reinventing them, each time more
in our image and likeness.
To make and remake
humanity continually —
is that really our mission?
The paths of the world, every single one,
forced or not, clear or shadowed,
open or allegedly and pointlessly closed,
continue to be torn open by us,
with our pain, our courage,
and our ability to look beyond time.
Translated from the Portuguese by G. Holleran