Poetry

Kevin Garnett in Africa

When crossing the border
Which you do on foot
From Tanzania to Kenya
The sign that reads, “Welcome to Kenya,”
Which has seen better days
Also marks the start of a strange little piece of Earth
Where you’ve departed Tanzania
But not yet officially entered Kenya
Not until you reach the visa office
Some hundred yards away
And it is in this very space
That dozens of colorfully bejeweled and beaded Masai women
Some with absolutely stunning faces
Have established a free trade zone
Designed to separate the tourist
From any remaining Tanzanian shillings
Left pleading to stay close to home in his pocket

Their technique is masterful
As they grab dozens of colorful necklaces and bracelets
Hold them out to you by the handful
Offer them to you at genuinely low wholesale prices
Bracelets and necklaces you really don’t want
Which they are slipping onto your wrists
And hanging about your neck
As you worry about pickpockets and say
“No, no, no,” in English, German, Mesopotamia, and Swahili
As kindly as you can

“Then keep them as a gift for your wife,” they say,
“Your girlfriend, your daughter, your mother
Take them, they are yours.”
At which moment
You first notice the young tall African man wearing the extra large,
Green T-shirt with the number 5 on it
The word Celtics on it,
And the name Garnett, your favorite player, on it
Standing on the court as it were, here in no-man’s land
Wishing you had your camera
Which is still in some illegal pawnshop
On the wrong side of the tracks in Moshi
Hoping that you will rescue it
To take pictures with it like these
Of the incongruity of Kevin Garnett
Your favorite player
Here in no-man’s land
Against the backdrop of trailer trucks clearing customs
       and bejeweled Masai women
When the man sees you looking at him
Approaches you
Asks what you are looking at or want

So you point to his shirt
To the number and name on it
To the words on it
As you say, “It’s my team, my favorite player”
And before you have put your finger down
He has pulled his shirt off
And standing gloriously thin and beautiful above his belt
Just like Kevin Garnett does
He hands his shirt to you,
Says it is yours
As you are saying “No, no, no,”
In English, German, Mesopotamia, and Swahili
To which he replies, “I am African, keep it, it is yours.”

And you want it
Want to give him some money
Or at least a young goat
But at the same moment
The bus driver has taken your arm
Hustling you toward the visa office
And a customs officer watching the event unfold
Is pointing at you,
Moving toward the scorer’s table,
Motioning that you are to give the shirt back
To the half naked African standing in no-man’s land
Maybe a little drunk, or a tad crazy,
Or someone with poor impulse control,
Or poor boundaries at the borders, you joke with yourself
Handing him back his shirt with regret
Entering the visa office
And exiting ten minutes later
An official visitor to Kenya
About to get back on the bus
Greeted by the same coterie of Masai women
And one familiar Kenyan man
Wearing a black jacket
You cannot imagine where or how he found so quickly
How he grasped the situation so quickly
And is waiving what is clearly your green Kevin Garnett
Number five, official NBA T-shirt

And notwithstanding the bus driver
Trying to move you along
And a bus filled with Indian’s, Kenyans, Tanzanians, and Americans   
Who also want to move along
You reach into your pocket
Giving the man your last ten thousand Tanzanian shillings
The equivalent of about seven U.S. dollars
As he gives you the shirt
The Masai women screaming at you
And at him
At the injustice of it all
The ridiculousness of it all
That you are paying for a dirty green T-shirt
When you could have a jewelry box filled with treasure
For even less money
And the bus driver is blowing his horn
And the passengers are waving you forward
And you climb onto the bus
With your new shirt
Checking your pockets
And waving at the Kenyan Kevin Garnett
Who has clearly made the winning shot at the buzzer
And is smiling.