Aurès by Togara Muzanenhamo

It was a six mile hike up the lee side of the mountain. Dusk was falling.
He eagerly suckled water from a flaccid goatskin. Set his head on a rock                 
and accepted the gift of its warmth – his eyes slowly closing then opening –
the air turning cold. A dull throb haunted the vestibule of his inner cheek.  
His mouth a garden of ulcers flowering with the metallic taste of blood.      
His gums – toothless and swollen. His tongue – a rough length of warmth              
searching his jaws with a desperation hunger and thirst could only afford.              
He selected morsels of warm pebbles and sucked on the pills of rock          
then bivouacked beneath a basalt overhang littered with rusted wire.
Burying his head in the hood of his tadjellabit – he fell asleep – and before

long he was dreaming of the moon rising red off the windswept horizon –              
            the ancient satellite sailing slowly among constellations on                          
fire – constellations streaked bright with centuries of war. He dreamt of                             
            stars aligned in symbols locked within the biological structure of                
his own blood – distant stars aligned into ancestral codes that silently burst                       
            into flaming pockets of dust which he could only describe at first               
as prophecies of ruin. His body drawn into this heaven of fire – his limbs              
            and head and torso dismembered and divided corruptly among                                
three insurgent vessels glowing in brilliant choirs of light – his soul                         
            witnessing his body burn between the trinity until his flesh became
translucent flames – blue parcels of light burning above each vessel –
the vessels then shooting off into the ceiling of a universe without a name.


When he woke he struggled to turn over onto his belly.       
Then retched. Producing a handful of clear bile. His head                 
pounded. He sucked on a cube of dried cod before head       
-ing out to descend a sharp cliff face that fell to the valley   

floor where heat wavered in swollen mirages. By noon        
he was wading through the air – silt sifting beneath              
his feet where water had flowed long before his birth.          
The riverbed lead him to a playa – a large brittle salt pan     

with a burnt forest cresting its lip. Old juniper and oak        
and olive and cedar trees twisted black. A violent wind        
curled and whistled with the tang of acidic woodsmoke       

and burnt salt. Every trunk leaned south over the bare         
scoured earth. He walked. The sun dulled and reclined         
and the earth began to cool. But not as rapidly as the air.     

Togara Muzanenhamo was born to Zimbabwean parents in Lusaka, Zambia in 1975. He was brought up in Zimbabwe on his family’s farm in Norton, and then went on to study in The Hague and Paris. His work has appeared in magazines in Europe, South Africa the United States and Zimbabwe. He has published three collections of poetry, Spirit Brides (2006), Gumiguru (2014), and most recently Virga, a Poetry Book Society Autumn Recommendation for 2021. He has been shortlisted for the Jerwood Alderburgh First Collection Prize and the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. He lives in Norton, Zimbabwe.