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Adrie Kusserow: Skull Trees

South Sudan

Arok, hiding from the Arabs in the branches of a tree, 

two weeks surviving on leaves, 

legs numb, mouth dry.

When the mosquitoes swarmed

and the bodies settled limp as petals under the trees,

he shinnied down, scooping out a mud pit with his hands 

sliding into it like a snake, 

his whole body covered except his mouth.

Perhaps  others were near him,

lying in gloves of mud, sucking bits of air through the swamp holes, 

mosquitoes biting their lips, 

but he dared not look.


What did he know of the rest of South Sudan, pockmarked with bombs,

skull trees with their necklaces of bones, 

packs of bony Lost Boys

roving like hyenas towards Ethiopia,

tongues, big as toads, swelling in their mouths,


the sky pouring its relentless bombs of fire.   Of course they were

tempted to lie down for a moment,


under the lone tree, with its barely shade,

to rest just a little while before moving on, 


the days passing slyly, hallucinations

floating like kites above them


until the blanched bones lay scattered in a ring around the tree,

tiny ribs, skulls, hip bones — a tea set overturned,

as the hot winds whistled through them 

as they would anything, really,


and the sky, finally exhausted,

moving on. 

Reprinted from The Best American Poetry 2011

Adrie Kusserow is a cultural anthropologist who works with Sudanese refugees in trying to build schools in war-worn South Sudan. Currently an associate professor of Cultural Anthropology at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, Kusserow earned her PhD in Social Anthropology from Harvard University. She is the author of two collections of poetry, both published by BOA EditionsHunting Down the Monk (2002), and Refuge (2013).


Adrie Kusserow

One comment on “Adrie Kusserow: Skull Trees

  1. Rich Clay
    January 14, 2019


    Liked by 1 person

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