So I Stand Here
So I stand here, an outsider at the doorpost.
They say thresholds are meant to keep
the outsider out, the insider, in, crickets,
forever creeping along walls, along the edges
of things. You must first lift your right foot,
and then the left, and then enter the hut,
before the kola nut is served, before
the spiced pepper is offered, and the water,
from the stream, handed to you. This is
the way of things, the way of life, clay to clay,
your hand holds not just a cup of water,
but the source of life. Tradition. So, now,
the outsider is an insider, but everywhere
I go, my country people are now a different
people. I know because my eyes see what
is not the norm of things. Do not tell me
that these corrugated old dusty roads have
emerged of themselves out of the war,
or that the new songs these strangers sing
in this now strange country of ours, are
from the time before the bullets. Do not tell
me that the kola nut you served me will
answer all of the questions that linger
in my soul. Do not tell me that I belong
to this new people. I have wandered away
too long, kinsmen. I have wandered so far,
my feet no longer know how to walk the old
paths we used to walk. I do not know these
people, birthed from the night’s passing of lost
ghosts. I do not know these people who have
so sadly emerged out of the womb of war, out
of the pain of war after the termite’s feasting.
My kola nut has lost its taste, and the spiced
pepper, now, with a new spice. I am too impure
to meet my ancestors, and the gourd of water
I have just fetched from Ngalun weighs heavily
upon my head. I stand at the threshold, my
kinsmen, come and help me over the doorpost
the termites have eaten. I do not have the hands
to greet my ancestors. I do not have the hands
to greet my kinswomen, and the hands with
which I take hold of the kola nut, is shriveled
by travel. The kola nut you served me is no
longer bitter to the taste, oh come, my
kinswomen, the horn blower has lost his voice.
But they tell me that the horn blower does
not need his voice to blow the horn to let me in.
In My Dream
In my dream, I’m on the road, flying
somewhere, stranded at an airport.
I’ve lost my car or lost the keys
in my lost purse.
Or I’m in the airport security line
without my passport, a lone traveler
without a country.
So they want to know my country.
They want to know my place of birth.
They want to know the map that got me lost.
They want to know the name of those
who shattered my dream,
shattered my lost country.
So I say, I’m a woman looking for home,
displaced, a bag of useless goods
for my journey, a flip-flap, a ragged
bundle that only a refugee carries.
I’m the lost and unfound, from those
who did not come on boats,
those that did not come ticketed
in chains, those who did not fit in chains,
those, neither welcome by those who came
neither on boats nor in chains. I’m among
the newcomers, the new, newcomers.
Those who came, ticketed
not by plane tickets or train tickets.
Those who came ticketed by live bullets,
grenades and rocket missiles,
those, still bleeding from their sides,
those who found their way here
by crawling among the dead.
The Cities We Lost
After they left, rainy days came back
to find us
among the ruins, in a city
resting on crutches.
There were the cliffs as if falling.
Old cliffs, old town, old villages,
the far wanderer, even the birds would
not stop looking.
The forgotten bones came alive, rising
on wings and black wandering feet,
then came looking,
for those taken from among us,
for those of us left to fade into air.
On the road,
a child was looking, sharp jaw
bones, tiny hands,
no need for crutches. The child had
become her own crutches of thin legs
no voice to carry away her legs,
no tears to open up her eyes to the sun,
as if she no longer needed voice.
But she thought I was her mother,
at the roadside.
Maybe I was her mother,
sitting there, by the roadside,
and looking up at me,
as if to follow this stranger that I was,
but how could I claim her
in the ruins that we had become,
amidst the bullets and rebels,
the suffocation of death
and the dying.
Death was more alive than us.
I Need Two Bodies
One to sleep and the other
to shuffle, push and grind up the day.
One, to bend a rod,
and set the world upright,
the other, to cuddle the earth
so it holds on to its hold.
The one to inhale and the other, to exhale.
To lie down upon freshly dewed grass,
the orange red sun, dying down slowly
in my other body’s eye.
I want my other body to drive like
a stubborn engine as stubborn
as a woman, after middle age,
my other body, standing on metal legs,
ready to grind
a large day downhill.
To empty these muscles of aching
pain down some drain.
I want my working body to sigh
and stand firm to all the battles
a woman must wage
against the grind of unsuspecting
roadblocks. One body, to be
the everlasting pull against push,
my one body, unbridled, legs,
as concrete as lady liberty’s
on a cloudy morning.
Her gazing eyes, upon
my old tired face as I sit
on a far ferry into the city
quiet, as sleep.
Then, my sleeping, eating,
resting body, rising out of unnecessary
things, tells this old one, “be still,
be still and know that I am you.
Be still, and know
that I am Woman.”
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s exploration of her Liberian civil war experience in her poetry has won the hearts of poetry and peace lovers internationally and throughout the United States. She is the author of four books of poetry, and a fifth forthcoming, including Where the Road Turns, The River is Rising, Becoming Ebony, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa. She is also the author of one children’s Book, In Monrovia, the River Visits the Sea. Her individual poems and writings have appeared in numerous literary magazines in the US, in South America, Europe and in Africa. She teaches Creative Writing and English at Penn State Altoona.