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 Atlantic, Adda, 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
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