In the jam of congested alleys
and on the paths in remote bush lands
I noticed African children race home-built toys.
Push-toys with long handles for steering
made from bleach and detergent bottles,
indestructible for use or as refuse,
ingeniously cut and hinged to imitate long-haul freighters,
or piped with windows like the high-wheeled overland buses.
All rode wooden or plastic cap wheels
of disproportionate size like the real
which must straddle and overcome
the swamps and ranges called roads.
Some toy buses for market, made of wood scraps,
wire for working springs,
and pounded out in tin can sides
cut and painted the white and blue
of the national transport company,
reminded me of our local failing general store
where the only work the husband performed
was cutting and carving models,
from busted nail kegs, fruit crates, cigar boxes,
of carriages and wagons such as his elders
employed. Sometimes he would place them out
on garden poles to no known end but ruin.
Mostly he hung them about the store for outsiders.
He would point to them as his industry,
talk of sales, and overprice them for our longing.
Such fidelity for tourists rules south of here
in dusty alleys and under dry-wash bridges
and the porticos and plazas of colonial bomas,
as bicycles and tricycles
and wagons and oxen take form from cast off wire
in the hands of practiced street children.
Hand-held perfection in shape and workings,
souvenirs but seldom toys.
But in this land, country or city,
children trundled their caravans of recycled
workaday goods made truly plastic,
form, and form of, play.
"Junk Toys" appears in In The Rain Shadow, forthcoming from University Press of New England. Copies can be ordered at www.upne.com.