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January 2013 Here, in Congo Town, I'm picking up debris from twenty years ago. Some remnants of bombs and missile splinters, old pieces of shells from the unknown past. A man strays into my yard, wanting my old range and a fridge some wartime squatters, passing through my home, did not take away these twenty-two years, while my home floated like a leaf, through the hands of mere strangers. He will build coal grills for sale, but it is in the trash that I'm searching for the past, searching for myself in the debris of years past, and here, the upper part of a cotton skirt suit, checkerboard fabric, black and beige, size six, yes, that's me, those many years ago, size six, high cheekbones, slender, sharp, the losses we must gather from only memory. But we're among the lucky, I tell myself as a former neighbor stares at me, the new neighborhood children, hollering around us. "I hear you're back," my once lost neighbor says, staring in awe that after so long, we're still alive. "No we're not," I say. "We're only picking up the broken pieces of the years, erecting stones, so the future can live where we did not." "Thank you, Mrs. Wesley, for coming back to us," he says. "We just buried Zayzay yesterday." "You're still burying dead, over twenty years, still digging and shoveling, to bury the young and early dead. This is a country of ghosts," I say, "a country of ghosts."
Copyright 2020 Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. From Praise Song for my Children: New and Selected Poems (Autumn House Press, 2020).
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley is the author of six critically acclaimed books of poetry, including, Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems, When the Wanderers Come Home, Where the Road Turns, and her 2003 Crab Orchard Award collection, Becoming Ebony. Her work has appeared in numerous literary magazines, including, Prairie Schooner, Transition, New York Times Magazine, Harvard Review, Harvard Divinity Review, and her work has been translated into several languages. She immigrated with her family after surviving two years of the fourteen-year series of Liberian civil wars. She is the winner of the 2023 Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize for her book, Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s newest book, “Breaking the Silence: Anthology of Liberian Poetry,” forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press in 2023,” is the first comprehensive body of literature from Liberia since that nation’s independence in 1847. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Penn State Altoona.
Voices such as these – aside from the obvious power and beauty that bearing witness conjures- never fail to remind me of just how good I’ve got it here, and all due to a simple accident of geography.
Yes, Patricia and her family survived Hell in the Liberian Civil War. Similarly, my wife’s parents survived bombs, starvation and occupation in Germany when they were growing up. Just by dumb luck, I’ve been spared such things.
M. Michael Simms Publisher/Vox Populi Founder/Autumn House Press Author/Nightjar (poems) Author/American Ash (poems) Author/Bicycles of the Gods: A Divine Comedy (novel)