All dirges shall cease at the striking of the clock,
at seven, when dusk comes creeping with death.
No more dirges will be sung for those taken away
or slaughtered or cramped together in camps
around the world—this our war.
Until we all wither like charred remains
of brush after the wildfire burns itself out.
And all the living creatures that once owned
the forest lie about in dry ash.
A snail shell, half burnt, a rattlesnake, coiled,
after the fire has eaten away its flesh.
A scorpion and her entire family, as if smoked
or parched hard for the ground.
And animals that used to run wild
in the jungles are all dead. But who will dare
mourn the passing of mere animals when
humans are still perishing and being smoked
and buried alive and put on the line
for the executioner, who is our warlord?
Where is everyone as kwashiorkor saps away
our war children one by one?
Our warlord tells us we cannot wail or mourn
or sing a dirge and wear black lappas or bury
the dead or send a letter abroad to tell those
who do not know about our dead.
Today when the sun comes into the kitchen
through the kitchen door or window, let us
catch its shadow, its rays; let us lock up the sun
in a box, in a steel box, and put a padlock
on the box. So tomorrow, there will be no sunlight
for the whole world. Tomorrow.
So there will be no more sunlight tomorrow.
Patricia Jabbeh Wesley was born in Maryland County, in southeastern Liberia, and grew up in Monrovia. In 1991, she and her family emigrated to the United States. She is the author of two books of poetry, Becoming Ebony (Southern Illinois University Press, 2003) and Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues Press, 1998). She is assistant professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA, where she lives with her husband and children. Wesley says that in this poem she uses “traditional African imagery”—snails, scorpions, jungle animals—to symbolize the innumerable lives destroyed by war.