Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks

My Uganda



-for Sister Concepta Najjemba

On an African afternoon
in Pittsburgh
sister scans the hills
for burning weeds
for whatever she sees
is Uganda.

She sips lemonade
on the steps of her porch,
watches the roofs
for menacing birds
and suffers sleeplessness
for sleep is Uganda.

Sister’s pale blue habit
is a vista so distant
that barefooted runners
as tough as fugitives
carry tales
across its landscape.

Surrounded by the spoor
of Africa, she sways
on her porch, telling tales
of midnight raids
and dead cattle,

of her father
shackled to a chair
where they shock him
in the balls,

of her brother
necklaced to a tire,
doused with gasoline
and set afire.

When sister speaks
about the tragic fever
that carries her country
out of its senses, her body is
and holy.

While all the other
sisters sleep, Uganda sits
on the edge of her bed,
jerking and swaying.

She runs her hands
along its thighs
and whispers mai mai
than the vibrating fan.

Sister’s fingers
ripple through the dark
and sister prays. Her prayer
is medicine, her prayer
is sweet,
sweet medicine.

Poet’s Commentary:

“This is a poem written for Sister Concepta Najjemba of the Missionaries of Mary of Uganda, Central Africa.”

*Reproduced with the permission of Jack Coulehan and The American Medical Association: The Journal of the American Medical Association, May 19, 1993, 269(19): 2463, Copyright 1993; and with special permission of Nightshade Press: First Photographs of Heaven, 1994.

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