Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Adrie Kusserow: War Metaphysics for a Sudanese Girl

  For Aciek Arok Deng

I leave the camp, unable to breathe,

.

me Freud girl, after her interior,

she “Lost Girl,” after my purse,

.

her face:

dark as eggplant, 

her gaze:

unpinnable, untraceable, 

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 EditionsHunting Down the Monk (2002), and Refuge (2013).

Copyright 2013 Adrie Kusserow

16 comments on “Adrie Kusserow: War Metaphysics for a Sudanese Girl

  1. Jason
    February 14, 2019

    She infuses her language and imagery with a raw vividness and breathtaking intensity. I was overwhelmed by the sheer power and passion of this electric poem; reading it was an indelible experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chet Scerra
    February 12, 2019

    Kusserow is a master!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kim Gutschow
    February 12, 2019

    very powerful, poetry is music for the body in pain, which does not always respond to talk therapy as much new neuro research shows…the body and the poet keeps the score here, we just need to keep listening. adrie, thank you for your brilliant work! keep on writing…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. G
    February 12, 2019

    We need to do more to hear the perspectives of others, while being conscious about force feeding a cultural prescription. Beautiful poem!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cindy Stotz
    February 11, 2019

    Makes my stomach hurt to read this, “Brings forth all the war she can muster”…

    Makes me think of the deep , sometimes bumbling, desire to help alongside the desire to please those seen to be saviors.

    No simple fix and sometimes what’s offered isn’t what’s needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Greg Delanty
    February 11, 2019

    This a ruthlessly brilliant poem. To alter lines from Adrie Kusserow’s poem, but which truly apply to the poem : it is“ the hot poultice…coaxing out the infection….”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. daniel r. cobb
    February 11, 2019

    How intense, how vivid and truth-telling. This took my breath away. This is why I read VP.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Maya Bhave
    February 11, 2019

    The vivid imagery of doctors, stillbirth and a lack of true voice for Aciek haunts me. Powerful stuff….

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Kendra
    February 11, 2019

    Powerful, vibrant, vivid imagery to bring us closer to a glimpse of understanding what it might be like to carry such horror in a land that pretends such horrors don’t exist or aren’t connected to our shared human experience. Thank you Adrie!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. jalerner11
    February 11, 2019

    Wow. The truth most of us cower away from. We need to hear more.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Rai Farrelly
    February 11, 2019

    Honestly, this is so powerful, beautiful, painful. I think this should be required reading by all educators, health care providers, case workers, social workers, counselors, etc. who have the honor and responsibility to work with refugee-background individuals. Sharing a trauma story often does the opposite of healing, which is clearly Adrie’s message here. Oh, just so powerful. I’m definitely going to have my students read this in my Teaching Refugee-background Students course. Thank you!

    This:

    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.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Maude
    February 11, 2019

    What a beautiful poem I’d love to see more by this author

    Liked by 1 person

  13. lolo4jack
    February 11, 2019

    This poem knocked the wind out of me. It’s a marvel how Kusserow’s words cut so close to the bone and complicate any facile understanding of others’ suffering and our own good intentions.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Annie Valentine
    February 11, 2019

    “Maybe trauma doesn’t harden,

    packed, tight as sediment at the bottom of her psyche,

    dry and cracked as the desert she crossed,”

    The imagery is profound.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Diana Hoppe
    February 11, 2019

    Amazing poem!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. sarah levine phd
    February 11, 2019

    Terrific. “the hot poultice of talk therapy coaxing out the infection.” hits the button..(I’m an anthropologist who counsels brutalized refugees.)

    Liked by 2 people

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