A woman climbs the steep escarpment, picks her steps with practiced care
a chill wind blows across the water, blows tangled hair into her eyes
she feels the winter coming on the wind.
It's been two years and still she comes, though she hardly hopes to see him now
two ships set sail two years ago
but still she takes the long way home that looks out across the sea.
At night she holds the child close and tries to conjure up his face
trace the jawline in her mind, downset eyes and temple scar
how is it she'd forget a face?
They're out of food
there's no more food.
Outside the night advances fast across the empty sea the cold North Sea.
And in a world across the ocean, women bending, planting seed
women in a field of mud, pausing, smiling, trading whispers, midday sun bears down upon them.
Woman in a covered wagon, sweat soaks through her milk-stained blouse
passing hills like sleeping children, passing but not seeing them.
Eighteen days since Fort McPherson, another month before the pass
two sisters back in Philadelphia writing letters with no address.
Six days since they laid him down and wrapped him in a child-sized quilt
no rites, no clergy, not a witness, just an unmarked grave off the Northern Platte.
Woman under weight of stone sinking down through gray blue water
reaches up towards the Mother, save me mother
All is dark.
Tell us Man, what can we give you? Tell us how to ease your pain.
Can we offer you redemption, lips, our youth, a softer fall?
Would you go to war for our protection, lay your lives down for our gain
guard our virtue with your caution, extract our pleasure with your knife?
Do you trust us with your truth, you've lain your hearts down at our feet.
We can feel your pain within us
here reach inside and take a piece of beating pulsing pound of flesh
a piece of soul it is a gift, we do not need it you can have it
we cannot stand to feel your pain.
Cross equator, cross a desert
a gentle wind plays through the grass that sighs through miles of gold savanna.
Twenty miles west of Gabiro the grass grows tall like your eldest daughter
except in years of drought it doesn't
and there's been three longs years of drought.
But the women in their huts don't think of drought at times like this
as they are crouched beside their beds
mothers' hands across the mouths of babes
don't make a sound my lovely child.
But of course what does it matter, they will know that we are here
and the women say their prayers
they pull their children tight as they listen to the footsteps
coming closer coming closer
and their prayers are not for salvation
but only that the darkness takes the children first.
And many miles away where the forest meets the grassland
a dozen heads rise up in tandem
twelve sets of ears turn to the east.
A herd of tiny bushbuck catch the muffled sound of gunfire
muscles quiver in their necks, they wait, they listen
then go back about their grazing
as the wind plays through the miles of gold savanna
and silence falls across the warm Rwandan plains.
Children, children, do not weep
Lay your troubles at my feet
Take my breast and settle darling
I would trade my fondest dreams
There now did I see a smile?
And in a veldt beneath a tree a woman grunts
her breathing shallow short and quick like hungry jackals
sweat pools in the dirt beneath her
rocking moaning rush of blood a child slips fresh into the world.
Listen women, gather round.
Don't you know that I still see you, feel your breath move through my body,
sense the quickening of your veteran disquiet?
In my sleep I feel the crush of all the dreams that slipped away beneath the steady beat of time
as you sought to bide your time.
When I look into the faces of my son and of my daughter
I see the hopes of all your children
they are one and the same.
And can you see me now my friends standing here on the precipice of time?
Do you see the closing arc?
Can you hear me raise me voice in hot dissent or righteous anger, open laughter, celebration?
Do you see me turn away from All they worship, say no thank you I choose not to,
stand abreast with kings and beggars, slip this ring from off my finger, walk alone into the night?
Do you see me drinking deeply from this cup of freedom always just outside your reach?
I see you smile for me and I wonder where you find your strength, considering.
Not in fist or gold or clever intellect or down the barrel of a gun
or whatever weary cliché.
You say this wryly then you laugh and I see time hasn't robbed you of your humor.
Come beautiful women, come and shuffle off the years
and the coats of many lifetimes lived in terror want and grief
come and drink this cup of freedom
bring your children, bring your men, there's enough for all to savor
for the heart is like a marvel, multiplies when split asunder
doesn't die when ripped asunder but regenerates afresh
unfurls in endless ribbons like the wind across the plains
like the miles of silver ocean
and returns to you the dreams that you once whispered in the night.
Come call back your lonely sentries
oh you queens of errant fortune
don't you see
don't you see
that we are free.