The End of Summer

Bethea thought that the August air smelled like an opera, thick and interminable. She was trying on the shoes she found in her grandmother’s wardrobe, balancing on one leg while looking in the mirror, when her perspiration damp skin snagged the hem of her skirt, and she fell. From her new position on the floor the room looked old and dirty. The house was an old lady’s museum, filled with figurines and collectibles. When she and her brother were children they got a whupping whenever they came to visit. Their play had always ended with damage to some knickknack. Grandmother kept a switch by the kitchen door.

Her grandmother had been dead for over a month, but her mother still wasn’t coping. The old woman had been stern, as unyielding as an iron bar, and she had bound Momma to her with her will. Now that she was dead Momma was lost, and it fell to Bethea to sort through the mountain of her possessions. School was going to start in less than three weeks, and she hadn’t bought her books. She desperately wanted to go to Julliard. She had applied but had never heard from them. Every day, for months, she came straight home from school to check the mail. Nothing. Momma begged her to go to the community college. They were a family of three, after all, and Momma couldn’t handle James alone. The community college had a small music department; it would have to do.

She lay on the carpet wishing she had been accepted at Julliard. It offered her sanctuary from the responsibilities of her emotional dependents, a brother disabled at birth and a mother disabled by life. She looked under the wardrobe. Something sparkled.


James always carried fifty cents in his front pocket. Bethea gave him the money every morning, and she always said, “Put it in your front pocket so you don’t lose it.” Fifty cents was enough for a jawbreaker at the Speedimart.

His hand was already sticky with a mixture of orange juice and dirt when he jammed it into his pocket to dig for the coins. The man behind the counter glared as he fished out one filthy object after another.

Two lug nuts.

Customers were starting to line up behind him.

A plastic army man.

Mrs. Bensen was getting milk from the cooler.

A crumpled white envelope.

The man behind him coughed.

Fifty cents.

He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his grimy hand and turned his attention to the candy. The cellophane slid neatly off and fluttered to the floor. The jawbreaker popped into his mouth as he opened the door. He was almost outside when the clerk shouted, “Hey, dummy. Pick up that wrapper.”


Bethea was sitting on the floor in the middle of the living room, surrounded by an army of porcelain figurines and blown glass animals. She was looking at her grandmother’s earring and crying softly. She hadn’t even liked the old woman, dammit. The earring was just junk, but there was something about the way it refracted the late afternoon sun that reminded her of all the time she’d spent as a little girl, sitting at her grandmother’s vanity trying on jewelry and listening to old records. She was blowing her nose when the front door flew open and slammed against the wall. There was James, and he was crying too.

James was almost twenty and spent most of his time watching cartoons on television. He was older than her by two years, but his intellectual development had stopped when he was about seven. Now he was standing there, crying and trying to talk at the same time. The jawbreaker in his mouth muffled his speech.

“Slow down,” she said. “I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

James opened his hand and spit the jawbreaker out. It bounced off his palm and arced through the air, a glistening blue meteor. It took out the most elaborate figurine first. The young man kneeling before the pretty girl on the park bench was decapitated. A cherub lost its wings. The jawbreaker clacked on the tabletop and went spinning off to rest among the shards of a former herd of glass horses.

James eyed the destruction with open-mouthed curiosity. He poked a little bird with his index finger and jumped when its beak broke off.

“Oh, man,” he said, “Now I’m gonna get it.”

Bethea laughed.

“What’s funny?” he asked.

“Nothing. That was cool. What were you trying to say?”

“The man at the store called me a dummy again.”

“Now, what did we agree on the last time that happened?”

James grinned. “That he don’t know me, so screw him.”

“That’s right, he doesn’t know you. If he knew you like I do, he’d know that you’re not a dummy.” She patted the carpet. “Sit down here and talk for awhile.”

James dug the envelope out of his pocket and plopped down, cross-legged, in front of Bethea.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“I been saving this for you. Momma threw it in the trash, but I knew you wanted it.” He held it out. Bethea took the envelope. It was from Julliard.

The last rays of the fading summer sun had turned the room orange. James picked up the little severed head and set it on the pretty girl’s lap.



Dragonfly In the Sky

There is nothing more one should adhere to or admire than a world of curiosity. My curiosity for the Patoor Village in Sudan brought a happy change into my life. Many days in the village, the boys were always wondering where this big dragonfly shape in the sky with such magnificent vivid smoke would come from. While we would look after the cattle, some among us would go back to our parents and ask about this mysterious machine in the sky, and most came back with short answers like “American,” with no further explanation. It was almost like a fairy tale to us; I guess maybe that was the start of our curiosity.

On 21 August 1987, the country of Sudan had declared war on herself, which had an effect over our settlement in the main areas of the South. All the villagers had come under attack by the Muslim armies at that time, which had stirred everyone to run off for their lives. This event has never left me since that is the day in which I had separated from my parents. I, along with others from my village, took a three-month journey to find refuge along the border of Ethiopia passing over the desert (or Sahara of Ager) within the southern region of Sudan. After crossing over to the other side of the border, the sounds of guns began to quell, and that is when we started a new life in the diasporas of the villages, since we all came from different places within Sudan and also had different ethnic languages. The villagers inhabited a refugee camp called Panyindo in that area of the border, while others went and occupied other places, such as Itang and Dimo camps.

The resettlement in these provisional places were not easy, since the government of Ethiopia was not willing to help us further than allowing us to camp on this small side of the land. However, at least they were generous to spare our lives from these vicious forces who wanted to kill off anything male and enslave anything female. After three months of tough survival in the camp, I.R.C.C., which stands for the “International Red Cross Committee,” came on the scene. I guess they were coming to check on us and to witness the famished conditions that we were in. It was eight o’clock in the morning of August 1987 when these legions were landing in our camp. Though I was wretched with hunger, I still had to stand up with my emaciated body and venture over to this flying dragonfly-shaped object the I.R.C.C. had arrived in.

Even with the strife, the curiosity for the dragonfly shape had continued to reside in my mind. It was like a dream come true, that the anisoptera that we used to talk about while looking after cattle in our village had finally come near me; I was vigorously willing to learn about it all. So, I asked the officer who was about to welcome this group, “What is this flying object in the shape of dragonfly?” The officer answered, with quick emotion, because he was in a hurry to go to the open field before this object was about to touch the ground: “It is an airplane that delivers white people.” I thought, “What does the officer mean by airplane and white people?” I was confused, but still waited to let everything calm down before I could ponder what he meant. Ten minutes later, the dragonfly finally hit the ground with a thunderstorm sound. I thought, “Wow!” And, in a few seconds, six white workers came out of this wonderful object, and the whole crowd were running after them because this was the first time most of our peers had seen white people in our lifetimes. Moreover, the different languages the I.R.C.C. agents were using created more curiosity in everyone’s minds on that day.

Later that evening, there was much distrust among the villagers in the camp. All were talking about how our complexions were different from the agents’. All we had known from the time we were born was the swarthy skin around us. Some among us were very much concerned about where they had come from and what kind of language they spoke; all of this formed the rising cloud-puzzle that day in the camp. This also indicated the negative impact in the minds of the oppressed who were kept behind bars for so many years. The Muslim government of the Northern Sudan thought they would keep the genocide of the Sudanese as a secret that would never be detected around the world.

We were unsure if the I.R.C.C. was part of this secret. However, the day we began to build trust with the I.R.C.C. was after they returned on the third day with medicine and blankets to be distributed among new arrivals in the camp. While some villagers were inoculated for a variety of diseases, most commonly malaria, many others European agencies and U.S. agencies were able to swarm into the camp to observe and secure the rugged environment that we were in. A few months later, we were given food rations by these agencies—American corn, bread, sardines—the European Union and USAID were dominant among the rest in helping bettering our condition.

Before we were able to relocate to a new camp, the Ethiopian government declared war on itself, and we were coerced back to Sudan, which created a very dangerous atmosphere for us. We were held at gunpoint while dodging bullets from both military forces on the Gilo River between the Sudan and Ethiopian borders; thousands of us were drowned or shot by the bullets. We were 27,000 young boys in number when we were in the refugee camp, but due to the incident on the Gilo River, there were only 16,000 left of us, which was the biggest loss over the course of our flight: We were trekking and finding refuge again until we reached the Kenyan border in 1992.

The curiosity again continued. After spending nine years in the Kakuma camp in Kenya, we were told that we will be resettled permanently in the United States of America. The process of resettlement began in 1999 and by the end of 2001, we were able to fly to the States with the famous name of the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, which was the symbol or status to remind the world about what had happened to us in the Sudan. I couldn’t believe the day I flew to Chicago. I could not believe that one day I would fly inside of what we used to called “the dragonfly”; within the dragonfly was an amusing modern steel carpeted chair and a television screen, which navigated the flight route. Never before had I ever gazed upon a television screen; I was hypnotized. We were told by the pilot that the flight was going to take off and to put our seatbelts on before leaving Kenyatta International Airport; in a few minutes, we found ourselves up above the sky. I was so happy and also nervous about the height at the same time. Everything began to disappear right below the ground. I felt like those birds of the sky; eighteen hours later, I finally reached my destination. It was such jubilant feeling using airplane for the first time, which I still recall every time my mind retracts back to the past.

If it wasn’t for my curiosity and my memories of Patoor Village, I could not have found out about “America” or endured all kinds of hardship in the refugee camp until my lucky day came and brought me to America. I had become the member of American society as it is today. So it is very important for an individual to consider curiosity with good memories as true courage in order to deal with difficult circumstances, no matter what the cost. One should seriously be inquisitive in order to be successful with whatever goal one intends to achieve.]


Spelling Lessons

A young girl the other day asked me a question.
“How do you spell ’strength’?”
I smiled.
I wanted to tell her it was more complex than she thought.
I wanted to tell her strength is one of those big words,
what was wrong with the word ‘strong’ I spelled for her last week.

..Or maybe she understood that these words are kind of different.
She used strong to characterize that body builder on the tv
strength hits a little closer to home.
I wanted to tell her strength is spelled like painting smiles with what was once tears,
in hopes that these tears are somehow made of a chameleon-ated substances

That brighten lips enough to hide cracks.

Cracks that label this woman as broken.
I wanted to tell her strength is spelled like standing in death’s face shouting “today is going to be a good day”
after you just lost your son in yesterday’s potent red, white and blue.

Death warned you of such threats beforehand,

Yet you refuse to take anything from the unprivileged.
Strength is spelled like
“Honey, God will bring us food”
after your child asks for the fifth time when she’ll eat.
I wanted to say strength is spelled like
hands that go side to side with grief because they are too fragile to hold the air that sits in your palm when your hand is still.
Strength is spelled like
“Jesus!” and
hundred dollar bills that would else wise pay a fourth of the rent that’s been due for a week now.
Strength is spelled like Jesus in a crowd of Judases.
Strength is spelled like silence
in a room of noise spitting knives as if you could stand to hear the cuts your heart already whispers,
strength is spelled like hate spitting its life as if you can already stand the hatred your life already whispers to itself,
Strength is spelled like “I love me”.
Strength is spelled like walking, head held high so you can see past the heads held low enough to slash insides.
Strength is spelled like “no I do not have a father in my life

But yes I will still seek the knowledge he was supposed to introduce me to,

Make connections where his ends didn’t meet,

Didn’t touch enough for me to be included in the loop.”
Strength is spelled like repeating the fact that you are a queen even though people are trying to reduce your title to “just a person”,
like “no thank you” after hearing

“oh you’re so pretty for a black girl”,
spelled like “Yes, I have a problem with that!”

after being interrogated for some internal heroin that must have “got you too high to take a compliment”.
Strength is spelled like serenity in the presence of an angry black girl stereotype.
Strength is spelled like my hair is beautiful even though it looks like barbed wire,
even though it looks undid,
even though you tell me it looks nappy in a bad sense
cuz confidence is spelled like “um, yea. That’s the point. ”
Strength is spelled like the
to be intelligent in a pool of ignorance,
knowing they will talk you down for being too smart.
Strength is spelled like black inside of cracks that should have only been red, white and blue.
“And now because of you we have to go colorblind” whereas if you just stayed silent…
Strength is spelled like standing proudly understanding and demanding respect in a world that will kill you for not being
anything less.
We live in a world where it costs too much to save a life.
Strength is spelled like living anyway.

But of course, that’s too much for a little girl.
So I told her
“Strength is spelled like
b-l-a-c-k w-o-m-a-n.”



High Blood Pressure

The military industrial complex grins its evil grin.

Having cagily plotted to kill me in a conspiracy

so nefarious, I wake up fluttery-eyed.

So diabolical, that even my paranoia died.


Somewhere in my DNA. trapped,

Like a vicious sliver of transparent candy

between two shiny-white American teeth,

my predilection for high blood pressure plots.


Hiding everywhere there’s salt.

Realer than any rumor about Jesus.

Concrete longing. Addiction. Bitter.

Ten times harsher than my wife’s tongue.


Salt. You fucker.

Didn’t consider it ever, till I’ve been forced to do without.

Nothing to look forward to but fruit and vegetables.

Compote, slushies, ecstasy over a good stool and death.


High Blood Pressure, baby.

It’s killed more Yids than Zyklon B.

Tonight I think I’ll live dangerous. Eat some pizza..

It’ll be better than sky-diving or shtupping a skanky whore’s ass bareback.


Who Am I?

Who Am I?

                Am I the girl lost in someone else’s shadow,

                Have I not found my identity?

                Am I mistaken for someone else?

                Do I take on a presence that is not my own?

                Looking to the world to give me identity,

                Is like walking into a brick wall,

                Expecting it to move,

                But knowing my identity is in Christ,

                Is all I need to know,

                Which gives me room to improve.