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.