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For Aciek Arok Deng
I leave the camp, unable to breathe,
me Freud girl, after her interior,
she “Lost Girl,” after my purse,
dark as eggplant,
floating, open, defying the gravity
I was told keeps pain in place.
Maybe trauma doesn’t harden,
packed, tight as sediment at the bottom of her psyche,
dry and cracked as the desert she crossed,
maybe memory doesn’t stalk her
with its bulging eyes.
Once inside the body, does war move up or down?
Maybe the body pisses it out,
maybe it dissipates, like sweat and fog
under the heat of yet another colonial God?
In America, we say “Tell us your story, Lost Girl,
you’ll feel lighter,
it’s the memories you must expel,
the bumpy ones, the tortures, the rapes, the burnt huts.”
So Aciek brings forth all the war she can muster,
and the doctors lay it on a table, like a stillbirth
and pick through the sharpest details
bombs, glass, machetes
and because she wants to please them
she coughs up more and more,
dutifully emptying the sticky war
like any grateful Lost Girl in America should
when faced with a flock of white coats.
This is how it goes at the Trauma Center:
all day the hot poultice of talk therapy,
coaxing out the infection,
at night, her host family trying not to gawk,
their veins pumping neon fascination,
deep in the suburbs, her life flavoring dull muzungul ives,
spicing up supper, really,
each Lost Girl a bouillon cube of horror.
Note: The Lost Boys and Girls refers to the 17,000 children in southern Sudan who fled their homes in 1987 seeking refuge from the civil war. They walked 1,000 miles to a Kenyan refugee camp. By the time they reached there, half of them had died.
Muzungu is the East African word for white person.
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 Editions, Hunting Down the Monk (2002), and Refuge (2013).
Copyright 2013 Adrie Kusserow