Prayer to Masks
Masks! Oh Masks!
Black mask, red mask, you black and white masks,
Rectangular masks through whom the spirit breathes,
I greet you in silence!
And you too, my panther headed ancestor.
You guard this place, that is closed to any feminine laughter,
to any mortal smile.
You purify the air of eternity, here where I breathe the air of my
Masks of maskless faces, free from dimples and wrinkles.
You have composed this image, this my face that bends
over the altar of white paper.
In the name of your image, listen to me!
Now while the Africa of despotism is dying—it is the agony of a
Just like Europe to whom she is connected through the navel.
Now turn your immobile eyes towards your children who have
And who sacrifice their lives like the poor man his last garment
So that hereafter we may cry “here” at the rebirth of the world
being the leaven that the white flour needs.
For who else would teach rhythm to the world that has
died of machines and cannons?
For who else should ejaculate the cry of joy, that rouses the dead
and the wise in a new dawn?
Say, who else could return the memory of life to men with a torn
They call us cotton heads, and coffee men, and oily men.
They call us men of death.
But we are the men of the dance whose feet only gain
power when they beat the hard soil.
Translated from the French by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier