How to Love a Broken Man

The last one said, I sometimes wish
my father was still here. I gathered him
in my arms like shards of glass.
I thought the pieces that lodged 
into my flesh was my martyrdom 
for his childhood loss.
I became a learner & teacher,
telling myself I’d get better 
at band-aiding the wound 
he wore like a tribal mark.
On the days he didn’t show up,
I recalled the absence of my own
daddy—his presence unreachable
even when he returned home 
daily to his reed chair.
On days he capped my face 
in his long, soft palms, I reached
for the memory of daddy filling
his mouth with my name, inviting
me to go learn how to plait on his afro.
For years, I hunted the holes
inside my lover, a vessel of glue
in hand, trusting I’d seal him up. Except,
he liked his wounds open.

Lessons on My Mother’s Face

Mother was up at six o’clock
again, her eyes swollen
& wouldn’t deflate even when
the sun got mid-sky.
At six years, I believed people
sometimes woke up with red 
eyes & faded tracks
on each side of the face.
I’m an adult now & someone’s son
pulls tears from my eyes every night.

Unlike Mother, I dab my swelling with
a warm towel & seek the cover of
brown-hued foundations.
Unlike Mother, I’m not yet six decades old
—an age I can wave & say, see how long 
I have kept these bones together? 
What’s the use of starting over?
I have the gift of lessons I read from Mother’s
face. Experiences I gleaned from the chorus
she sang into pillows as I faked sleep. I believe 
I still have the privilege of time. So, I stay.

Hail the Feet that Kick in Walls

We counted the years till we ran
out of fingers. Prayers didn’t shrink
the load on our backs. Pleas didn’t lift
our voices above the din. Scarred hands
didn’t earn us less time in smoky hearths.
Around us, different tribes of thorns
thrived—the big shot on the throne
rang the bell for when we could sneeze,
how much of our skins could be touched
by the wind or the sun or the rain. But
a body pricked for too long, bleeds
a mouth taped shut for too long, tears
a woman pushed for too long kicks a
brick out of the wall reddening her back.
That’s how we descended on the square.
That’s how we uprooted the acacia
lodged in our land for three decades.
But now, we read history that won’t recall
the color of what we shed on the battlefield. It
won’t say parts of us got stolen as we made
room for our feet. But we won’t return to
our knees. We’ll press the pen of the world
to write us.   

About the Author:

Ber Anena is a Ugandan writer, teacher, editor, and performer. Her poetry and prose have been published in The AtlanticAdda, The Caine Prize anthology, Brittle Paper, The Plentitudes journal, New Daughters of Africa anthology, The Kalahari Review, among others. Anena’s debut poetry collection, A Nation in Labour, won the 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. She’s a 2021 graduate of Columbia University’s MFA Writing program and pursuing a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

*Featured image by Walt Ward