In this place of cattle songs and bridal bartering,
There is blood in the air and conflict between the clods
Of sun-dried equatorial earth.
It may not yet run red, but give it days.
This place, barren, flat and empty, is marked by dichotomy,
Binary seasons and sudden shifts in message and intent.
Our pronouncements and activity plans fall short.
We fill collapsed latrines with the evidence of spent efforts,
Expired chemicals whose dates ring out a chorus of our failure,
A procession of missed targets,
A cavalcade with hubris at its head.
We skirt around the periphery of it all, oblivious,
The inheritors of far flung fancy and colonial folly –
The cattle lands and peace-stick prophets give us short shrift.
We do but meddle.
We sit each evening behind iron fences
Oxidising to the echo of battered calf skin.
‘Mobilisation’ has rarely carried such ominous portents –
We hear the beating as villages empty.
This is the rush before the run of red.
In the hurried breath that precedes the storm
Iron sheets grate against uprights,
The wind a diaphragm whose movements conduct
A chorus pitched as a choir of women in labour
Ushering forth something terrible and new with their strains and tearings.
This evening tukuls will collapse under the weight of bad weather,
Fence posts will snap in the face of it all
And nature’s theatrics will be accompanied by an entirely human counterpoint
As cattle raiders and neighbouring tribes sneak in beneath the cover of the rolling skies.
These are not my people, and perhaps I should never have come,
But this evening will find me sheltering alongside strangers,
Lying between a circle of concrete six feet below the earth
And watching tracers pass overhead
As automatic writing fills the skies.
No, these days the nights are never still.
Even for a dark-dweller as myself the mornings come as welcome relief.
Maale, Murle – hold off another day.
The unspoken rules of war have dissolved over decades
Leaving innocents at the heart
Of a cycle of revenge and revenge
And staked through wombless women.
Please, Lord, give us days.
And so we wait, filling backpacks with essentials and the keys to flee –
We hold onto our own days here,
And we guard them jealously.
In the aftershock of the storm
My mud hut swells and creaks.
The plastic sheeting hung over the wire mesh windows
Drift and press against in the breathing out,
Rhythmic and redolent of the ocean.
I am all at sea.