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Walking from Buwenge to Mawoito: poems by Natalie Lester

sugarcane, image by Albrecht Fietz, on Pixabay

Uganda 2020

I remember the sound of rain and the smell of sweat. A thick body odor with a trace of lingering dust. And behind the dust, a pair of eyes burning with love and greed and hunger.

I remember the sound of pastors preaching as if their tongues had caught fire. As if every unanswered question was burning away on their tongues. And all of the congregation being held silent in that fire.

I remember the sound of my own voice, quivering and rising like a fragile wing out of darkness. Becoming clear in the morning light and laughing through the tears of waking. And the sound of my tears, like all the rivers of the world converging to pour out their secrets, meeting the oceans hidden beneath them. And the quiet after the tears, heavy and flat like the great rocks lying at the bottom of the rivers.

I remember the laughter of children running through the sugarcane fields, the horizon stretched out like a promise of endless beginning. Like unspoken words flowering to fullness in the silence of the heart.

I remember kneeling down and clasping the hands of strangers with love. Greeting one another with songs of “Praise God” and “Amen” and I was struck by the wonder and ritual of language. I was struck by the emptiness of language and ritual. I was struck by the power of belonging and the ways that each of us has to go in order to belong.

I remember walking the path to my home in the village, arriving in a house of empty rooms, seeing those rooms enclosed in my own body, and myself seated in the center of them. I remember watching myself becoming lost and becoming found. I remember the light of the Mother awakening me in a dream, shocking me with the bliss of being. I remember asking for everything untrue to be shattered and made new, as the colors of dawn were seeping into me like the last thread of a life dissolving its memories.

I remember my voice sounding itself inside of me, like stones falling into the still well into which I peered, trembling. The trail of my voice going like a dark sun setting into the ocean’s far horizon.

I remember looking at the world with open eyes, my feet standing firm. I remember the tree of childhood blossoming under my feet and the wind lifting these blossoms skyward.

I remember the weariness of feet cracked and sore, awaiting hands to mend them. I remember hands moving like leaves over water, hands turning earth to flowers, flowers to dust, and every day hands rising to carry water.

I remember the taste of neem bitter on my tongue, as I stood beneath the neem tree and fell into the eyes of an empty sky, it’s gaze holding me in a fierce embrace. I remember shattering like a crystal ball into raindrops, filling the earth with the victorious song of my brokenness.

I remember brokenness as an untouchable wound that hides between coming and going, that carries light between coming and going. That one day smiles upon all the world and touches every drop to awakening.


Fever’s Break

* Under the blanketed light of afternoon

hushed voices enter this room,

and draw back the curtains thickly folded.

The fever lifts

and drops me open me gaping wide,

upon the floor where I lie and squeeze

the ache of thighbones, fragile, tender.

Through murmuring lips I stammer

into flickering beams of light,

as I lift my head, heavy,

sodden with the wrenching night.

Wind moving through the treetops

sings me back into a sleep,

of raging fire and voices tossed

out in the seas of withering dreams.

* The fever lifts,

like waters rising together in chorus

to drown out the stars.

What will remain when the lids

of this fullness peel open

into worlds of emptiness?

What will move when the hands of time

discover their own silence?

Which story is told when the words

go to wordlessness?

Where is the drop to be found

when all of the oceans are spilling?

* The fever lifts,

washing me out and out

into this breath of quiet,

a breath in which I stand,

walk across the room,

lean against the windowsill

and listen.

When the rain comes,

my words crack

open palms into silence.


Walking from Buwenge to Mawoito

The red dust of the city fades.

The grey smoke of charcoal

stings my eyes.

The voices of street vendors calling out

dwindles, as I shoulder my pack,

fixing my gaze on the road before me.

The sun slips and hangs low in the sky,

prodding me onward, step by step

as dreams flicker and pull at my eyelids.

As town turns to village, the cicadas’ chorus

begins, and the songs of the wind

passing through the sugarcane stalks.

At the edge of the sky

a lost dream comes back,

beating its wings beyond the fire.

The many faces of day

ache in my hands,

voices echoing in the dust

become a refrain,

a strange song that enters my blood

and sings through me.

The fields begin to shimmer

like a veil through my hands,

my feet light, and the whole world gossamer.

Time, for one moment, becomes still

and rests in me completely. I watch the tide of bright faces

turning to handfuls of dust,

scattered words descending to quiet.

The burden of confusion lifting,

like a new wing opening its face

between my shoulder blades.


Natalie Lester is a poet currently living in Ithaca, New York. Some of her work has appeared in a chapbook through Tiferet Journal, and other work is forthcoming in Eucalyptus & Rose, and Poetic Sun.

August 2021 issue

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I loved these Natalie -- especially this:

The fields begin to shimmer

like a veil through my hands,

my feet light, and the whole world gossamer.

Time, for one moment, becomes still

and rests in me completely.


Aug 29, 2021

Amazing poems.


Janine Pickett
Janine Pickett
Aug 29, 2021

I love the language and rhythm of these poems! Beautiful!!

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