Friday’s Poetic Pause: “Golden Sunlight; Chukudu Shores” by Emily Cavan

Reposted from an aid blog I always look forward to reading, Throwing Down the Water: Writings from the DRC. Emily notes that chukudu are “two-wheeled wooden carts with handles and a narrow ledge of wood between used throughout North Kivu to push heavy items. In Goma there is a golden statue of a chukudu and driver.”


Golden Sunlight; Chukudu Shores

The dogs bark.
The caravan passes.

On the way down the port road to the city center
there is a handwritten
sign that says captage d’eau
right next to where someone at some time seems
to have constructed a slight jetty of
stones (broken hunks of lava) into the water, a possible
thirty feet spear ,triangle,
Indian arrow-head.

On it women clamber with children on backs and beside them,
baby hands splashing at the holes between the lava rocks,
And jacaranda najaranja flaming rose colored plastic buckets,
And tumbled piles of
Dirty laundry.

They sink and dip and swerve for hours
Into the water
Off the captage d’eau,
Scrubbing out volcano dust,
Redistributing liquid salinity
And laying it all in the sun to set.

I ask if it was meant as a joke, this sign,
pretending infrastructure,
I find it hilarious.

The way the golden chukudu* statue in the one-paved-roundabout
Appeared in tailored clothes
And a dark-haired wig
And the slogan I love Valentine on his new red t-shirt
On the 14th of February
as if, of all things, the city would suddenly
start popping up
With individual expressionism;

Practical jokes and Andy Warhol take-offs
(bubble bath in the college fountain)
When even the volcano menagerie (second round-about) cannot bother
To be unveiled but hulks, instead
Under tattered sherbet sheeting, an almost unbelievable quantity
Of sheer non-effort, to leave it sitting (for years?)
After the work of some artist, dedicated, we assume,
As if in an abandoned amusement park, back lot Hollywood, though
it sits not only center but representational;
all the creatures circling the glowing giver of insecurity,
the potential warmer explosive presence;

I wonder at the use of subversive humor
If it might not just unhinge, unhinder, work loose
a nugget of interest in the irony
practical joke of it all,
which is already named and found to be funny (the dogs bark);
I think of Graffiti Jerry in Port-au-Prince, his overnight appearance of social messaging
Scribbled in blacks and reds and blues (colors of the flag),
a voice to rally
the back alley truths
sprung up like violets
round the neighborhoods of privilege.
Where did Haiti find democracy?
Individual voices that speak for the masses;
The dogs bark
The caravan passes
The drivers laugh to tell me this.

A rich man can do whatever he wants is what it means,
All your growls and squealing , no matter,
Who listens to a dog?
He does as he pleases, forgetting those on tip of the arrow-head,
Golden chukudus,
Volcano menageries.

Flocking sunlight splashes
by the rusted boat all washed up at the lake’s inlet,
Where AM boys wade out with their jerry cans (flotation)
and swim, and pound each other, and give chase, and give up
then slink exhausted to the hot metal (old deck), next to the mothers
(the girls of the triangle) all stepping high on hot rocks once hotter (lava),
all glancing up between the moments (living)
at the traffic crawling down and round and up the mountains,
down the port road,
avoiding the dust of mainstream.

White land-cruisers
tinted shield jeeps,
green benched pick-up trucks;
salutation of arms.

Les chiens aboient
(lavent, se baignent, rirent, se reposent,
gardent leur bebes, parlent)

le caravan passe.


Have some poems you’ve written or you treasure that you’d like to share with fellow aid workers and do-gooders? Please send them my way at!


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An aid worker’s poetic journey

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