Patchwork Quilt for a Congolese Refugee
None of the white coats
predicted the autumn leaves would be such a trigger.
Every fall she grows suspicious
as the days pass, sly and dark, behind her
and the earth shifts slowly in its seat.
Blood orange blotches catch and spread
like birthmarks along the mountain range.
In the cold, balding woods where they tell her to walk,
she can hardly breathe when she sees it,
the sugar maples gory neon spill,
as if kicked in the gut,
the first burning vein,
scarlet bolt of lightning,
sew the dull needle of Jesus
through the little jungle brute
who crammed a gun up her nose.
She could spend her whole life
picking through images
of gang raped, machete-gutted women,
cobbling together a patchwork quilt
with its bold “African” traumas in vogue now.
She could fall in love, with a rapt audience,
clinging to her words
as she Ted-talks the noble tragedy of her story.
She could drag her past around like the American kids
with their baby blankets,
demanding their rights to bedtime stories.
She could even sell it at the boutiques
where Americans shop for Fair Trade.
Or, as the eerie geese fly south above her
and the cold creeps across her skin,
crimson gashes ripping through the hills
with their brilliant mad infections,
she could let the blood leaves break her apart,
let go of it all
and finally just begin.
Refugee Christmas Eve, Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
For Jurkuch Arok Atem
Lost Boys of Sudan were over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups displaced or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War.
Hush, remember, the wind was howling,
snow squalling into eddies and currents
that writhed across the fields, vanished into blackness.
I was sitting by your side, on the locked “low stim” floor,
as you sat, stunned, regal Dinka of the Blue Nile,
on the psych ward’s stiff white sheets,
like a fallen blackbird beating against the glass
you thought you could pass through.
All night you kept watch,
in the United States of How Are You Feeling?
where fluorescent bulbs sizzled,
struck threads of lightning above you.
you overturned trays
while nurses dressed like astronauts
shuffled around your bed.
Each time you screamed
white coats rushed to watch the Lost Boy trauma.
Though they tried to look solemn,
I swear they could hardly hide their glee,
such exotic displays of PTSD!
When they finally left, we sat in the dark,
the blizzard slamming itself against the window.
Though we weren’t supposed to,
(on account of your fragile psyche),
we opened each other’s childhoods anyway.
And though our histories were not supposed to congeal,
(on account of my privilege, on account of our differing skin),
let alone take to each other,
our pasts grafted together
into some clumsy mutation,
some cross cultural Quasimodo
that limped around the room, made us laugh.
Later, despite the conspiracies I knew
still whipped around your lonely skull,
when the meds hit, your eyes rolled back
as you fell into what should never be called sleep,
I told you of the goodness
even the Snowy owls hold in their claws,
as they swoop the winter sky blood hungry.
I cradled your shaved skull with the tenderness
meant for a robin’s egg.
I even sang.
In fact, I was so good at it,
all night even the owls looked longingly
through our window.
Jesus, Immaculate and the Pig, Essex, Vermont
This is where Jesus dumped Immaculee,
before wandering off
to tend another flock of clouds,
down in the psych ward, clutching her bible and scattered papers,
preaching to the nurses.
Jesus in his nursing home bathrobe, polyester slippers,
Jesus whose rings-of-Saturn halo floats passively
from the fridges of all the Congolese in this quaint
Vermont town. Jesus who for all practical purposes, did nothing
to stop her gang rape in Essex, Vermont
(instead of the Congo, rape capital of the world),
Yes Jesus gave her a tepid blessing
as she left each day,
her psyche padded like a hockey player,
but when winter got tight and stingy,
snow tendrils swallowing the trailer
like a great white squid,
Jesus fell asleep in front of the TV,
while her mother prayed and cooked the loso ya boulayi,
ntaba, mipanzi, makemba et salade,
banana, pepper, cassava steam rising, the heat cranked up,
the trailer humid as a jungle,
Immaculee’s mind loosening enough
for one memory to squeeze out of its cage,
snorting, then shrieking, a frantic pig squealing in her skull.
For days the pig raced inside her head, shredding raw sirens, while Jesus
did nothing but smile from his perch in the Lazy Boy,
like he’d had too much weed.
Even when the family held hands, prayed the rosary together, Jesus
with his puddle-dull dopey eyes
draped like a Dali doily over every
refugee couch in that town, Jesus,
with his tapered yellowing fingers, could not catch the pink squealer
screeching, tearing about, shattering teacups.
Jesus who comes to her at night, feeling guilty,
like a cat kneading the lap where it wants to settle. Jesus
who circles around and around, pawing,
suggesting forgiveness to the grunting white thugs,
then curls up and closes His eyes, purring
while the pigs roam frantic and wild
and the night skins the moon alive.