Twice-lost, or, Some reflections on “First World,” “Pith Helmet,” “Raft”


I’m reading a book called The Golden Rhinoceros about the African Middle Ages. There’s a chapter[1]about a European explorer who, in December 1964, hires a local antelope hunter and two soldiers to take him into the Mauritanian desert to look for a rumored site of archeological interest. They eventually find what the book describes as a “caravan wreck,” what I imagine (somewhat inaccurately) to be a sort of terrestrial version of a shipwreck in the Sahara. The concept fascinates me. The European does his best to survey the site once they find it after ten days of traveling through the dunes, scribbling notes as fast as possible because he and his guides cannot stay in the open desert much longer as they’re running out of water. He tries to draw himself a map of the site’s location so he can return with the resources and manpower necessary to properly excavate. But once the European and his guides leave the site, the European never finds his way back.

Something about the story makes me think of my father, who left when I was a small child, when I was around the age of 5 I think. It’s my earliest memory. I’m not sure what the story of the twice-lost desert caravan has to do with my father. I write a poem about it, but it’s sentimental, and more than that, I don’t like it. So I write the next poem. It’s full of bits of material history, water, gold, a sinking feeling. I write the next poem. This time bits of imperial history erode, the body erodes. I write the next poem. In it there’s a shipwrecked (or perhaps caravan-wrecked) world existing on the ruins of capital. I call it Raft.

It’s difficult for me to say with any certainty what my poems mean. That’s too static. I have some ideas, but I don’t think it’s for me to know deep down what my poems are communicating. That’s why readers are so wonderful. When someone tells me just the other day what a poem I’ve written is doing, it’s news to me—something I’ve never noticed about the poem before—and it’s also a gift. Something is revealed to me. I have a better idea of what it is I’m saying.

While reading the new FE magazine from Fonograf Editions, I encounter a poem [2] by Nathaniel Mackey which mentions Ogotemmêli. There’s a book called Conversations with Ogotemmêli [3] on my shelf which I’ve read with great interest because I love Nathaniel Mackey’s writing, I know of his interest in the Dogon, and I always want to learn more about his poetic influences. So Mackey’s poetry leads me to a book about Ogotemmêli (this is a great simplification of what the book is actually about) which hails me in this new poem I’ve just encountered referencing Ogotemmêli. So, again, this doubling.

I’ve lost the thread. Someone else will pick it back up and teach me something. Arrivals. Departures. I’ll write some poems.


[1] Fauvelle, François-Xavier, The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages, trans. Troy Tice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018), Chap.27, 183.

[2] Mackey, Nathaniel, “Dogon Anonymous,” FE, March 15, 2022, 61.

[3] Griaule, Marcel, Conversations with Ogotemmêli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas (London: Published for the International African Institute by the Oxford University Press, 1965).

Matt Broaddus is the author of the chapbook Two Bolts (Ugly Duckling Presse). His poetry has appeared in Fence, The Rumpus, and Pigeon Pages. He is Associate Poetry Editor at Okay Donkey Press and lives in Colorado.