Zambezi man’s song – by John Coleman

Zambezi man’s song – by John Coleman

In 1962, when I was a young man, I lived near Victoria Falls where I had been employed as a game ranger in the Department of National Parks. I later left this department and was ranching above the park in the top end of Southern Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) near Kazungula, on the Zambezi River.

I still did a lot of lion and elephant control work and was called out by a neighbour to hunt two lionesses that he had wounded while they were attacking his cattle. I got careless and was severely mauled by one of the wounded big cats. Thinking I might die, my father “Rufus” Coleman wrote the following poem about me:


When I must die, O river of peace and thunder,

Take my remains, let the fishes strip my bones,

Let beasts of the water gather and pull them asunder,

And scatter them far with the weeds and the rolling stones.


Let one bone lie where the floods spread over the grasses,

And one where the barges moor in Katima Bay,

One in the depths where the wandering hippo passes,

And one in Katongo sands where the skimmers play.


A bone shall repose in Libulibu’s reaches,

’Neath branches stooping to finger their mirrored forms,

And one by Naiende’s shaded beaches,

One in the straight broad stream where waves blow high in the storm.


Leave one on the bank where the migrant birds assemble,

One by the Chobe bushbuck’s forested home,

A bone where a great croc dwells and the boatmen tremble,

And one under Katombora’s boisterous foam.


Let the eagle take one aloft on soaring pinions,

And drop it afar in the boundless gusi land,

Where the elephant walks and the lion and all their minions,

And there let it lie with the leaves and the burning sand.


The rest but one, O river, dispose and cherish,

Where your waters divide and a palm-clad island stands,

Where you take the hues of the west as the day-hues perish,

I care not where – in your rocks – in your creaking sand.


The last shall stay where the stream grows swift and swirling,

And, demon-driven, rushes to be destroyed,

Till over the verge in a reckless breaker curling,

The suicide flood leaps vastly into the void.


So I shall be merged with your beautiful, turbulent daughter,

O earth, and a part of the wildness that nurtured me,

And I shall carouse with the devils and gods of the water,

As restless in death as in life I was restless and free.


And in winter dawns, when the tall reeds stir and shiver,

And the cold drops hang from the leaves at the waterside,

My spirit will rise with the morning mists from the river,

To look on the scenes where I lived, adventured and died.”

                                                             -Rufus Coleman


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