First Floor Inscription-Atibon Legba


I am Atibon-Legba.
My hat comes from Guinea,
Likewise my bamboo cane,
Likewise my ancient pain,
And old bones.
I am the patron saint of janitors
And elevator boys.
I am Legba-Bois, Legba-Cayes.
I am Legba-Signangnon
And the seven Kataroulo brothers.
I am Legba-Kataroulo.
Tonight I plant my reposoir,
The great medicine-tree of my soul,
In the White man’s land,
At the crossing of his roads.
Three times I kiss his door!
Three times I kiss his eyes!
I am Alegba-Papa,
God of your thresholds
Tonight it is I,
the master of your pathways
and of your White man’s meeting places,
I the protector of the plants
and insects of your house.
I am chief of all the gateways
To the spirt and the human body!
I arrive all covered with dust.
I am the great Black ancestor.
I see, I hear what happens
on the pathways and the roads.
Your hearts and your White man’s gardens
Have hardly any secrets from me.
Quite exhausted form my journeying I arrive
And hurl my great age
On the floors where your White man’s
betrayals crawl.

O you Alabama judge,
I see in your hands neither pitcher
of water nor black candle.
I do not see my vèvè drawn
on the floor of the house.
Where is the good white flour?
Where are my cardinal points?
My ancient bones arrive at your home,
O judge, and they see no bagui
in which to deposit their sorrows.
They see white cocks.
They see white hens.
Judge, where are our spices?
Where is the salt and the hot pepper?
Where is the ground-nut oil?
Where is the roasted corn?
Where are our stars of rum?
Where are my rada and my mahi?
Where is my yanvalou?
To hell with your tasteless dishes.
To hell with white wine.
To hell with apple and pear.
To hell with all your lies.
I want yams for my hunger,
malangas and pumpkins,
bananas and sweet potatoes.
To hell with your waltzes and tangos.
The ancient hunger of my legs
calls for a crabignan-Legba.
The ancient thirst of my bones
calls for robust, manly steps.

I am Papa-Legba.
I am Legba-Clairondé.
I am Legba-Sé.
I am Alegba-Si.
I draw from their scabbard
my seven Kataroulo brothers,
and I change my terracotta pipe
into a sword,
and I change my bamboo cane
into a sword,
and I change my tall hat from Guinee
into a sword,
and I change the trunk
of my medicine-tree into a sword,
and I change my blood
you have spilt into a sword.

O judge, here is a sword
for each door of the house,
a sword for each head.
Here are the twelve apostles of my faith,
my twelve Kataroulo swords,
the twelve Legbas of my bones,
and not one will betray my blood.
There is no Judas in my body.
Judge, there is a single old man
who watches over the way of men.
There is a single old fighting-cock,
O judge, who hurls into your path
the great red wings of his truth.


The title ‘Atibon-Legba’ is the name of a lwa or divinity of Haitian vodoû, a religion which derives in large part from the Fon of Benin. The Fon in turn are historically indebted to the Yoruba: the name ‘Legba’ originates from the Yoruba ‘Elegbara’. This poem belongs to a dramatic sequence in which a White American judge and his family are confronted by an epiphany of lwa. Names with hyphens which include the element ‘Legba’ are aspects of the same divinity. In vodoû, each principal divinity has a family of manifestations which sometimes function as separate entities. The Kataroulo brothers are aspects of Legba-Kataroulo. The reposoir is a tree which serves as a shrine for a lwa. Each lwa has his or her favourite tree: the reposoir of Legba is the ‘medicine-tree’ (tatropha curcas). A vèvè is a ritual diagram, usually drawn with flour on the ground, which represents (and summons) a lwa; the bagui is the sanctuary of a vodoû temple. Rada and mahi are rites – the names derive from African place-names; the yanvalou and crabignan- Legba are ritual dances.