In the heart of Acholi land

Some memories
are starker than others.
This one had swirling
red dust rising from
the frenzied driving
of one eager to get us
to the edge of somewhere
where the road to Gulu
led to the hope of Juba. 
This was the land
where anthill monuments
towered by the roadside
bearing silent witness
to the comings and goings
of the dark-skinned people
who used to live there
and then were gone.

Now they return
with empty eyes,
calloused feet numbed
from the walking, and
hearts aching for lost
children and the blood
of kin spilled from
the dying.

Those that are found,
or have found
their way back,
come empty-handed
with no memories
of home, only the
cringing of soul
from the relentless
onslaught of anger
and hatred.

Yet they return—
some of them—
as though led by
some light from within,
some dim memory of
it anyway, that illumine
the way back to where
lie waiting the hope,
the hope of Juba.

And they dance,
and they sing
for those of us
who care to sit
and listen.

“Opwoyo matek!”
“Thank you!” they cry,
“We will never, never
forget you!” And we
cry, hearts filled
with aching.

[Note: This was written in remembrance of my first visit to Gulu, Northern Uganda in June 2007 with Libby Hoffman and Herm Weaver]

– Tagaytay, Philippines
July 12, 2009

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