Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Four poems

Belonging

A Song to Dreamers

There’s an ominous feeling when you discover
that after so many years of belonging,
you no longer belong.

A tree knows that the leaves it carries on its arms
belong the way water belongs to its banks
the way fire holds heat
the way a woman carries her fetus
the way the fetus belongs.

But there’s something about a world where
some can never belong,
a country that never quits picking
out those who used to own the land.

How they pick them out like the way my Mamma
used to sit and pick out from the white
grains of parboiled rice, the dark wild
black grains, the unformed, the ones, killed
by sun and rain and the cold dew,

how Mamma sat all day, cleaning out the dark,
brown grains away before the cooking process.

Today, hundreds of thousands of children
who swam through swamps and ocean,
who came in baskets, tossed on the ocean,
who, so infant, they only cooed
their way here, children, whose mothers
sent them to safety or what they thought was safety,
like the mother of Moses,
and now, the new world of dark hearts
is shipping them away,
back to a land they do not belong.

To belong is to belong is to belong, is to know
you belong. But there is something ominous
about waking up at dawn, rolling
under your comforter,
and knowing the way we know our hands
and our fingers, that you do not belong.

Today, a man whose family came
from somewhere, is asking those who used
to belong to not belong anymore.
You see rocks and you see mountains
and you see swamp and you see trees
and you see sand on the ocean
and you see ground,
and you know they belong.

Only the feet of those not belonging, the new
homeless, the ones who wake up day to day
and belonged yesterday, but today,
do not belong. Those whose belonging
to America depends on who
sits up in that big white house.
There is something sad about belonging
to no country. There is something racist
about being a racist because a racist sees color
the way God can never see color.

 

 

On September 11

A Memorial to the Unknown

On September 11, I always think of the homeless
and all those unknown, the forgotten, street people,
those who sit in alleyways, on the stairways,

those who belong to nobody, the forgotten we see
along street corners, their shabby coats unfolding
stories we’re too busy to read, their eyes, sunken

and alone, the aloneness of our manufactured world,
enfolding them as they wait as if waiting for us
or for tomorrow or for a god under the shadows

of buildings so built of steel, we thought they were
invincible, those with no name, whose names will
never grace a stone or wall or the lips of a grieving

mother or child or wife, those who were forgotten
in the count, the beggars, too ashamed to be beggars
until that morning when the first plane flew into

the first tower, and looking up, the second also fell,
the homeless with his old coat torn at the sleeve, his
food in a small cart he tooted around a city so alive,

the city forgot him, and I wonder how Heaven
remembers such heroes, and even as they ascended
into the Heavens, I wonder if somehow, the rich

and the poor, the homeless, the unknown coffee boy
at the corner bar, the unknown child who fled home
away from family until family forgot he was still

alive, and I wonder if the rising dead held hands, poor,
rich, the beloved and the unloved, and all those who
shaped the world before the world shattered us all,

and how I wonder how it felt holding hands like us
in our common tragedy, the gone, and those whose
bodies were so crushed, but in death, they rose

and rose above their killing, the beloved father
and the motherless run-away child, the street walker,
the black, the white, and the yellow skin?
Since no matter who we are, dying is dying,
the common denominator since blood is blood
and grief is as deep as grief and all our tears flow

all the same, and the heart pounds like a heart
in grief and in pain, no matter who we say we are.
I wonder as we remember, if they remember us.

 

 

When I meet My Ancestors

When my ancestors come to greet me
at the outskirts of the other world,
I will be carrying in my hands, all the bags
of leaves the wind has brought me
from my neighbor’s yard.

When I cross over the threshold into the other
world, my ancestors will wonder
what it is I am carrying.

When I greet my ancestors, I will tell them
how my life has been littered by falling
leaves, falling dreams, falling skies.
I will tell my Fathers about a journey
they did not know I would take.
It is not the leaves alone I will be carrying.
It is not the heartache of living so far
away from home, I will be carrying.
It is not just the tears in a pail, I will be carrying.
It is not just the sore feet the wanderer carries
I will be bringing.

When I meet my Mothers, they will sit
me down on The Mat to wipe my eyes.
When I meet my Mothers, they will sit
me down on The Mat and wipe my eyes.
When I meet my mother,
she will sit me on her lap, and wipe my eyes.
When I meet my mother, she will sit
me on her lap and with her lappa,
she will wipe my eyes.
When I meet my mother, she will take
from my tired hands, this bundle of rotten
leaves and the pail of tears
I have brought to her.

When I meet my mother, she will sit
me in the middle of the room
just like she did when I came home
after years away at boarding school.
When I meet my mother,
she will sit me on her lap, and with her
lappa, she will dry my tears.

 

 

Tugbakeh

After Too Many Years

I was so long gone, when I finally arrived
in my hometown,
I could not find the road back home.

Time had swallowed up what used to be
the street into Mission Town, Tugbakeh,
down to my uncles’ homes

where the fireplace was burning hot,
children hollering as night came in slowly
and the sun returned to its own home.

I could not find Ngalun, where we dipped
our pails and our feet at the same time
the way only villagers still do.

Today, I could not separate the mission
from the town or from the graveyard,
where the dead waited for God

to resurrect them on the day of resurrection,
on the day of our ancestral gods
meeting the other god, bestowed
upon us by the new-comers.

I did not find anyone I knew or who knew me.
I did not find the town I used to know,
and for a second, a woman thought
I was my Uncle Tugba’s daughter,
and greeted me the way you greet
a wanderer from a far country.

She did not know me, and the man who
welcomed us out of roads that had become
only footpaths, and offered us seats,

and sat and sat as if this were not
my father’s homeland, as if this were not
my father’s homestead

When I finally saw my hometown, I had
become the lost daughter.
I had been so long gone, they did not
offer me kola nuts.

As if the town had run out of kola nuts
As if all the kola nut trees had been
burned in that same ugly war.

I had been so long gone, it was two days
before I realized the tragedy
of being denied kola nuts in my own town.

I forgot how abominable the sin of not
offering kola nut to a daughter on her
homecoming, how abominable

that empty greeting. I lost all sense
that the man in charge of our fathers’
homestead had forgotten

how to find kola nuts, how to slice
each half of the kola nut, how to wash
and place the sliced pieces

in the kola nut bowl, how to offer
the spiced pepper,
how to welcome home the daughter
who had been too long gone.

 

 


Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Writing for Peace AdviserGuest editor Patricia Jabbeh Wesley is a Liberian civil war survivor who immigrated to the United States with her family during the fourteen year Liberian civil war. Her books include When the Wanderers Come Home, Where the Road Turns, The River is Rising, Becoming Ebony, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa, and one children’s book, In Monrovia, the River Visits the Sea. Her poem, “One Day: Love Song for Divorced Women” was featured by US Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser in American Life in Poetry June 13, 2011 edition. Some of her awards include a 2016 WISE Women Award and the Crab Orchard Award. Her poems have appeared in New Orleans Review, Crab Orchard Review, Prairie Schooner, among others, and have been translated into several languages. She is an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Penn State University.

 

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