Suzanne Ondrus

Three Poems

Her Greatest Silence

(In response to viewing The Greatest Silence documentary film by Lisa F. Jackson)

I’m going to the Congo.
for 76-minutes,
for free, via a library rental DVD.

I watch shattered women
at the camera,
some numb
and some near tears.

They’re on the screen.
I am on the couch.

I hear machetes,
blocks of wood,
were rammed inside
2 yrs. old,
4 yrs. old,
15 yrs. old,
35 yrs. old,
and 80 yrs. old.

The rapists are there too,
though they deny wrong doing.
They hide their eyes with
sunglasses, drape their faces.
They smile, laugh.
And if the victims were their mothers,
their wives?, the interviewer asks.
They say, all for the Congo.

All for the Congo, its
diamonds, bauxite,
iron ore…
but women should be its
most precious jewel.
Raping women is a form
of reward,
pushing a sense of power
in those men.
Rape is a weapon of war,
long lasting,
far reaching.
War becomes fought
through women’s bodies.

whose wombs make the nation.
Women whose hands
cook food. Women whose
heads carry water home.
Women whose backs strap
babies and rock them to sleep.
Those very women are raped,
            till their inner walls tear,
            beyond repair,
            and urine constantly drips
            from there, making them,
The victims, shamed and blamed.
Women of the Congo are cast out
from their homes because other men
forcefully entered them.
Women of the Congo suffer
and I sit here safe in my home.
I sit here warm, newly clothed,
and richly fed.
I’m here and
they’re on the screen.

But that screen has a reality:
               The blood runs
               The urine leaks
               The children cry
               The husbands shun

And I’m here sitting
taking violence as education in,
as something to consume
asking what are we to do?

It’s been over ten years,
almost a generation.
We are separated by
an ocean, but unified
by blood, and yet our
country forgets that,
doesn’t count that fact.

Sisters, today I gave
you what I could-
my energy to listen
and tomorrow I give
you my prayers for peace,
my prayers for healing.


Small, Small

Small, small
is how my father died.

Not a big, big light
illuminating his path

towards death, but a thin
trailing off,

a shedding of parts,
a tapering,
a slow reduction
of what used to boom
and bound,
foully snap,
and fully crap.

It’s funny how we die.
Some go
in the space of a month,
an hour,
and some over decades.

I wondered how long
it would take my father to die.
It’s not that I wondered when,
it’s that I wondered how,

how he began
to go numb,
was it a hot heart
that built up anger
and built up anger
till it could hold no more?

Or was it like a blanket
that had gotten worn,
its stitching and fibers
pulled apart,
its color lost,
till it was just tattered
and frayed?

Small, small
is how we all die,
whether it is booming
outwards towards death,
or shrinking
inwards from it.

By small, small
my father became dead,
not calling,
not writing,
and not smiling,
And he got big, big.

The food
was between us;
it brought
us together and
was a way of speaking.

Instead of questioning
or hugging,
second plates
were substitutes.

Fried wontons,
shrimp chips,
bowls of pudding,
and heaps of orange chicken

made it appear
that life
was there,
there going in
and going in.

But really there was silence.




Dreams With the Dead

Last night I saw you again.
I was fleeing,
in an empty bus
and had to drive it, had to make
it go, and I didn’t know how.

You were there.
You pointed out the
clutch and the gear shaft.
The bus was empty, but you were there.

Fleeing.  Driving powerful.
The big and the empty.

I woke happy for your presence,
with the empty space
of the bus’s curved
metal roof
and felt quite full.



Suzanne Ondrus is a Fulbright Scholar in Burkina Faso.  Her 2014 book Passion Seeds, won the Vernice Quebodeaux prize. She was Reed Magazine’s Markham 2013 Prize winner in Poetry. Her recent work is in Visitant and in S/tick. In 2017 she participated in Guinee Conakry’s UNESCO World Book Capital.




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