poem index

Ejo

Derick Burleson

The Kinyarwandan word which means both yesterday and tomorrow

World resolves itself
in crowded crane's 
liquid eye, in the cry

of ibis, eye that's gazed
on anyone who's ever walked
this path beneath acacias, through

coffee fields to the river
and back again carrying water or fish.
Cry that cries the morning news.

Come, let's walk this path
together, empty handed, carrying
nothing back but a few words

of a language powerful
enough to turn the river
back on itself, to fill the river

with bloated corpses.
One day I swam far
into Lake Kivu, a thousand

feet of clear water below
and nothing above except sun.
My body suspended on

surface tension, the line
between air and thicker air,
sun the point from which
the water swung. Yesterday
I swam. Now I'm back home.
Tomorrow Remera will swim

out into that same lake, almost
across the border, gut shot,
gasping, almost there, almost. . . . 

Crowned crane wears
a slash of crimson at the throat.
Beneath its golden crest, beneath

its liquid eye, the path winds
through coffee fields
to the river and back again.

Fathom yourself in exile.
In every gurgle of each
morning's pot of coffee

you hear your brother's last
breath. You wake in a forest.
You've been shot. Get up,

stagger down the path
to the river full of corpses.
In its ancient terrible cry

(fling your body in)
ibis pronounces how
beginning becomes the end.

From Ejo: Poems, Rwanda, 1991-1994 by Derrick Burleson, published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Winner of the 2000 Felix Pollack Prize in Poetry. Copyright © 2000. Reprinted by the permission of The University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved.

Derick Burleson