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."
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, "Erecting Stones" from When the Wanderers Come Home. Copyright © 2016 by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. Reprinted by permission of University of Nebraska Press.
When Monrovia Rises
The city is not a crippled woman at all. This city
is not a blind man at a potholed roadside, his
cane, longer than his eye, waiting for coins to fall
into his bowl, in a land where all the coins were lost
at war. When Monrovia rises, the city rises with
a bang, and I, throwing off my damp beddings,
wake up with a soft prayer on my lips. Even God
in the Heavens knows how fragile this place is.
This city is not an egg or it would have long
emerged from its shell, a small fiery woman
with the legs of snakes. All day, boys younger
than history can remember, shout at one another
on a street corner near me about a country they
have never seen. Girls wearing old T-shirts speak
a new language, a corruption by the same ugly war.
You see, they have never seen better times.
Everyone here barricades themselves behind steel
doors, steel bars, and those who can afford also
have walls this high. Here, we're all afraid that one
of us may light a match and start the fire again
or maybe one among us may break into our home
and slash us all up not for our wealth, but for
the memories they still carry under angry eyelids.
Maybe God will come down one day without his boots.
Maybe someone will someday convince us that after
all the city was leveled, we are all the same after all,
same mother, same father, same root, same country,
all of us, branches and limbs of the same oak.
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, "When Monrovia Rises" from When the Wanderers Come Home. Copyright © 2016 by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. Reprinted by permission of University of Nebraska Press.
Some of Us Are Made Of Steel
Some of us are made of steel.
Some of us are made of twigs. Some of us break
in order to stand and rise above the bend.
Some of us bend and wobble and rock
to the rhythm of all the scars we pick up
as the roads wind us in their hard grip, and toss
us up in the cold, sometimes, hot air
against the dashing against the walls of life.
Some of us are made of jelly, soft to the touch,
but when life gives us a blow, we slide
and glide, and before you know it, we've made
it to the other side away from destruction,
surviving the punches only jelly could take.
Some of us are made of tears,
tears, tears, and we weep hard so rain
falls on hardened, drought-weary soil,
and then the rivers swell and swell and swell,
because somehow, life has made us cry.
But in our tears, salt, healing, salty and forever,
we are forever. Yes, some of us are forever.
No matter what you toss at us, we rise
again and again and again, like that old river
in my backyard at home, that river that rises,
and we say, oh, the river, and then it goes away,
and we say, oh, the swamp. Some of us are hard,
sometimes, the river, sometimes, the rock.
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley is the author of six books of poetry, including, Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems, and When the Wanderers Come Home, among others. Her poems have been featured internationally in magazines and anthologies, including in Harvard Review, Transition, Prairie Schooner, The New York Times Magazine.
I, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, grant permission to the editors of Shinning Rock Anthology to reprint the following poems: "Some of Us Are Made of Steel," "Erecting Stones," and "When Monrovia Rises," copyright, (Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley and Autumn House Press, 2020).