The Poet’s Eye: Fall ’08

The Poet’s Eye: Fall ’08

Poems by Kirsten Rian and Juditha Dowd

Reading Poems By Girl Mothers in Sierra Leone – by Kirsten Rian

It is blessedly hot,
and I have never known
such sweat. I’ve lost
my sense of smell,
a physiological survival response,
I’ve decided, to the thick,
all-covering fabric
of urine, exhaust, dust,
and bug spray.

I alternate bright orange Fanta
and muddy, bitter Nescafé
between handfuls of roasted groundnuts
and am too tired to care
how my stomach will react.
Lila smiles as she hands me
her poem. The baby on her lap
pulls at her shirt as my boy used to
when hungry or bored.
She swats at his hand,
Yes? she asks, I nod,
and begin to read,
the words echoing
the same stories
I’ve heard already
45 times today alone:

They killed my parents.
They burned my house.
They cut off the arms
of my neighbors.
They made me a wife.

My shirt sticks to my body,
her dress to her.
The baby struggles to climb
down, she grips him,
staring at me, waiting
for my answer to her question:

What do I think of her story?

©Carol Hunt

On The Way To Liberia – By Kirsten Rian

Bilingual signs in storefront windows,
fire escape laundry, Turkish shouted
window to window, eyes the color of sage,
men sitting on car hoods trading bottles in bags,
where Russia borders Turkey, here in Oakland.
Last night her husband beat her,
the good parts are dangling.
Liberia down the hall, apartment 3 B
I wish I were back on the Ivory Coast,
I wish I were back on the Ivory Coast, she chants.
Her child almost spilled out the window,
I caught his hip, she borrowed a dream,
poured cough syrup into a spoon,
lit a cigarette, piled ash in her palm,
and made a mountain
of what’s left after exhaling.

Kirsten Rian’s poetry has appeared in national literary journals and anthologies, and was recently nominated for inclusion in the 2008 Best New Poets anthology. She leads workshops internationally, including locations like Sierra Leone and Finland, using poetry as a tool for literacy, healing, and storytelling within the refugee/immigrant and homeless communities. She resides in Portland, OR where she is a Poet-in-Residence through the Literary Arts Writers-in-the-Schools program.

©Carol Hunt

Female Perspective, Daily News By Judith Dowd

They’re talking about the women again—
on TV they show us a blank-eyed girl.
Her head is covered, her clothing strange.
She is not one of our women.

Can we imagine the rifle butt,
the line of soldiers waiting their turns?

She circles the globe in search of water,
birthing sons and daughters with the same ambiguous verb.
Her sex is a minefield for the boot.

My daughters call from their various coasts:
What the hell is going on?
One claims it’s all tied to that woman on TV
who finds redemption in pairing her husband’s socks.
I’m serious, she says. And I tell her my fear:
that eventually none of this will have happened.
We’ll have vigils, programs in the public schools,
and soon it will all be long ago.

Time’s ability to heal
depends on the subtraction of detail.

Driving down anonymous streets,
I roll down the window and shake out my hair,
move through this landscape like a woman
who befriends her husband’s lover,
not to seek mercy, but to learn.
I am a magnet for all I fear.

On a middle page of the New York Times
she is running. I see her burdened back
the black beneath her lifted shoe.
She runs from this place,
where violence puts its hand in God’s
and calls itself holy,
the riven kingdom of the world.

By dark she comes whimpering into my bed,
stripped of her knowledge, already dead.
I stroke the hair of a child hidden in her skirts.
Spices weight the humid air.

I ask my daughter . . . what’s going on?
She has covered me with leaves.
Lie still, I hear her whisper, hush!
as she hides my granddaughters
under the eaves.

Juditha Dowd’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Florida Review, California Quarterly, Edison Review and Earth’s Daughters. Finishing Line Press published her chapbook, The Weathermancer, in 2006.