2002: 400 Mile Song

what am i now, then? this is no time

for plays, for stages, for masks.

i pray for a new path, to be used

for some fine enough purpose

that my own grief will not swamp me.


a job comes, that brings me to work

with many groups seeking funds

to do small projects. health promotion

has so many faces, i am to learn.


the small project of the dinka

is to maintain and expand

a school for their women and children

so they may learn to read and write

in their own language and in english.


kuot is their point man, consistent

a few others come and go,

in town and down in brooks

at the packing plant where the money is.

the men explain, these are the songs

that they sang together, making their way

four hundred miles through the war

to safety in the camps. and these same songs

through the refugee process, the third country

claims, the proofs of support, the long wait

these songs, they all know, and will share

with their children born in peace.


kuot’s wife lith, and beautiful doruka

take me in hand when i visit their school

at the church where they hold services

they seat me between them, and lith holds

the hymnal with lyrics in arab and latinate script

her voice an iron drum on my left

doruka a velvet deep light on my right

taps her finger syllable by syllable

to lead my eyes as their voices guide my ears.

i cannot help singing, and when my eyes

tear with wonder at the beauty of the song

lith reaches up and squeezes my elbow

her voice unshakeable, stern

i cannot falter, cannot fail. this song

is four hundred miles strong.


doruka tells me over tea

after the service, she will soon marry

shy simon,who smooths back his hair

and works in security downtown.

later, after another meeting

kuot and i walk chinatown

and i ask him, how long did it take

to learn what to buy in the supermarkets?

he replies, oh never mind that, first

it took a year, and a little more

to learn to get on the bus and not to think

he might find himself detoured to a stadium

herded off, and shot.


i will think of this now, whenever i see

tall dark sudanese walking

i will make sure to smile, to nod

to silently confirm, you are home now

so far away, but arriving a little more each day

i see it in their steps, and hear again a song

four hundred miles strong.

One Comment Add yours

  1. MA says:



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