with a line by Claire Schwartz
I celebrate mango mornings, comfortable silences, a seat across from the avocado tree outside our window, ant-free salt shakers, Mama's pink headwrap, her hand reaching for mine,
another day alive.
The daily mourn.
Do you want to know about the bodies?
I'll tell you anyways:
How they curl like paper in a flame,
hands reaching, aching for god—any god,
raped until raw and skewered like goat brochette,
babies burrowed and battered inside their mothers' sunken chests,
torn from their graves, white-washed and embalmed in the name of memory,
made tools of the Rwandan regime even after their last breath.
I've used these analogies before.
Did you really think words could tell this story?
On the night Emelienne shows me a photo album of her father's bones, I dream I'm watching a
man use a chainsaw to excavate a body on the altar of Nyamata Church. I know without knowing
the perpetrator is Hutu, the dead-but-not-quite-dead body is Tutsi.
Each night in Rwanda, I cry myself to sleep and tell myself it's because I've never been so
Not long after the album of bones, I dream I survive a genocide in the Congo and, when the
genocide is over, I feel the urgent need to call my parents to tell them I'm alive.
Back home, afraid of a butcher knife removed from the dishwasher, I will dream my friends are
slaughtered with machetes at a ballet class in the woods.
In Kigali, I laugh with my classmates about our similar dreams (malaria-pill induced, we are
sure) as we board the bus for another visit to a genocide memorial, where we are told: "Everyone
has forgiven each other now." And: "No, do not ask that. No Hutus died. Only Tutsis. You must
never forget that."
At home, I will slowly learn to call theses nightmares, trauma.
These site visits, state-sponsored propaganda.
The truth is I want this poem to be about anything but myself:
Hutu and Twa erasure, the spy we didn't know was a spy who once drove my friends and I home
for free, genocide reenactments staged each April in Amahoro (Peace) Stadium where dissidents
were held as prisoners then shot, the men at bars who only tell their genocide stories after their
third or fourth Primus, my sister Emelienne—born among the dead, her father resurrected
through her name, the Tutsi widow who told us how her baby was killed on her back and she
still carried her child for days anyway, the Catholic pilgrims who flock to Kibeho despite
The truth is I have run out of synonyms for the word "massacre," and I have been told the words
"genocide," "ethnic cleansing," and "holocaust" are reserved for Tutsis and Jews. I have been
told by Tutsis that these two identities are actually one in the same.
The truth is I never met a free Hutu until I returned home.
The truth is I have survived nothing yet cannot take the Eucharist without reliving their final
Tell me a story of two bodies not threaded with violence.
Tell me my body will eventually forget all of this.
For every life cut down, another grown from loss.
Surely, Mama must imagine sometimes,
a world where two of her children do not exist.
Her husband in their place.
Anna and David's faces distant dreams,
sunlight on the back of her neck,
the lingering in the touch of his hand.
Umva. You must listen to me.
There is still goodness here, as goodness always sings her survival song.
There is always more life.
There is always more life in you.
Gabrielle Spear is a poet and community organizer based in Queens and raised in Northwest Arkansas. She was named a Goucher College Kratz Summer Writing Fellow, a finalist in LUMINA's 2017 Borders and Boundaries Nonfiction Contest judged by Leslie Jamison, and a Brooklyn Poets Fellow. You can find her tweeting at @gabsters93.