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A poem about Liberia

November 8, 2010

The Road to Sierra Leone           

The air hung thick as static over a day moving
in no particular direction. We chose
the only road out of town,  a rutted track
 
as red as the Devil’s heart, enclosed
by jungle and the faint mirage of fires in the grass.
Last year the birds came back to Monrovia, a sign,
 
they said, some people were starving a little less.
At a checkpoint our last dollars vanish into the hands of silent men
hangdog in their slack khaki. The heat shifts, a beat
 
of drums or marching feet far off, and then
like a shadow from the shadows, the Devil
himself comes to sing.  I wish I could say he screamed
 
like glass shattering, turned stone to gravel,
but at that moment he sounded more than anything
like a man singing.  His enormous lion’s mane shook
 
above a man’s narrow shoulders, his back arching
hard against the weight, his feet stamping sparks
without light.  He shook and in his dance I saw
 
a jungle alight with birds, the sky dark
with smoke from rubber burning, and men repurposing their greed
in factories along the coast.  Who knows if even the Devil tires
 
of killing and the smell of blood, if he dreams of lying buried
in the bosom of a darker year.  But even in exhaustion, desire—
we witnessed, willed to forget, and drove on.

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