Published on Academy of American Poets (

The Soldier’s Dream

France promises to increase military assistance to Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger as they join forces to battle Boko Haram and the extremists’ campaign across the region’s borders.
—reported in “‘Seven-year-old girl’ kills herself and five others in Nigeria suicide bombing,”  The Guardian, February 22, 2015  
The child has one body and five bodies it holds: the body of eyes, the body of ears, the scent body, the body of tongues, the tactile body of singed hairs. Seedless, the one body is stiff and shrouded in white netting.
The child has one body and five black stones, tiny fists with gold wrists pinned over her heart. The child has one body and five small bags of salt pinned to the band round her waist, five glass rattles braided into her hair. The coarse blue salt and jet charms offer protection. The rattles ward off trouble. She stares behind me into the future. She hovers in the air. Around her, the gilded pages of a book rise and fall amid mottled feathers, dirt, and dry leaves. The dirt colors everything red.


Copyright © 2018 by Duriel E. Harris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘The Soldier’s Dream’ is part of an ongoing project taking up withness as a primary mode of engagement, exploration, and witness. I began its composition meditating on the phrase ‘The child has one body / and five’ from Lisa Fishman’s poem ‘Oscura Selva’ (from The Happiness Experiment, Ahsahta Press, 2007), an allusion to Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as images of the last moments in the lives of Nigerian children kidnapped by Boko Haram. After incorporating that phrase into the poem, I found myself returning to De Profundis, or Psalm 130, (traditionally recited as a prayer for the sick, sung in commemoration of the dead, and uttered as an expression of sorrow) and the energy and promise inherent in birth and youth. I found myself asking: What is required to keep the peace? Who among us journeys to paradise?”
—Duriel E. Harris


Duriel E. Harris

Duriel E. Harris is author of three poetry collections, including her most recent, No Dictionary of a Living Tongue (Nightboat, 2017). Harris is an associate professor of English in the graduate creative writing program at Illinois State University and the editor of Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora. She lives in Chicago.

Date Published: 2018-02-28

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