365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor


Oh, You Want the Facts?

You want the facts, babies?

She was beaten. Like cassava for a meal.
She was raped. A bottle shoved up her vagina.
She was left for dead. Because dead don't matter too much.
She bore the child
of her assailant.
She bears his disease.

She bears the facts
she cannot tell --
to her family,
to her husband,
to her village,
to her country.
She stifles everything --
the beating,
the rape,
the child.

I think our cultures,
however different,
are forever similar --

we women,
from wherever we come,
stifle --
our beatings,
our rapes,
our assaults.
long enough
to keep us
long enough
to finally stretch
out in the
beds we don't know
or coffins.

Tired of Market

Trudging, drudging, up
the hill
with at least 15 kilos on
my shoulder from the market, rope
and woven basket
eating into my skin.

Six weeks ago I lost
all feeling in my small finger,
left hand.

I thought of stroke,
and brain and heart, now

I think of nerves only, the
soft feeling of a finger falling asleep, never
quite awakening, I flex it regularly, every
but then again, I flex each and every small dead
into something -- a word, a kind voice, or an angry one,
a poem --

a poem -- the silence of so many years, now
so loud, I marvel. Everything a challenge,
every person a story, every
child a waking dream,
and myself, my muse,
so abundant.

Back to Kate

I think it is okay
to have a heroine --

someone like me --
who likes the taste of gin
and cigarettes --
someone who heftily
shakes your hand -- I read you do that --
unlike southern women, who
gently touch your fingertips, never
revealing, never bleeding, never sensing
the pounding
fear of uncertainty, the
smell of your heart and sweat --

Yes, sweat, some of us do it.

I should have e-mailed you,
before I left all
that I knew,
and said I'd be an alien
in a foreign place -- Garrett could
have put it through, I know he surfs the net.

I live here now, in Uganda,
remembering that at home
you take your profession seriously,
as I do mine.
You, the actress, me
the one with words --

It would be my great privilege
to send you the message of the
storks here -- fighting for life
because no one appreciates their
presence -- scavengers --
survivors, like women, all over
the world.

Born Again Christians

The Born Agains come
and keep our afternoons lively.

I serve American -- texmex
chilis, salsa, beer.

Converse about countries --
things the same, things different.

And the terrible, terrible questions that
ring in my ears as they confess, and witness
and confide --

what of the holy customs of your people?
What of Africa? What of tribes?

What I Really Fear About Death

What I really fear is
that my children would hate me for dying.

But more and more my head turns
toward taking risks
for myself only --
a trip north to see a war
not my own, but someone's, and
why should it not be seen?

Why should I,
considering becoming a nurse,
not see the AIDS, the TB, the Ebola, the
stretch and strain of primitive
childbirth, not hear the wail of other
mothers who have lost children for
no good Western reason?

Because --
I'm afraid they'd forget
my voice,
my soft Kum ba Yah,
my reprimands to behave,
my stories, like meat you
cannot take from the bone, the stories
I cannot tell until
they are older.

Leslie Brown Kenney edited the literary magazine at Austin College (Sherman, Texas) during her undergraduate days and went on to study with poet Diane Wakoski in an M.A. program at Michigan State. Part of an unpublished book-length manuscript produced out of the experience of spending the 1996-97 academic year with her family in Uganda, where her husband had accepted a Fulbright appointment, this work represents her return to writing poetry after a hiatus of several years.

© Copyright by POINT, 1998