Men: several. Night: one.
The year was 1979. At 23 I was as wily as
cow dung. Took me several minutes to realize
I’d been invaded. Half-asleep, I saw male forms
moving around my room—men with a purpose.
I took umbrage—chased them with a broom,
slashing at the one who fled through the window,
his ashy leg the last thing I saw before he disappeared
into the bush. (When his calloused foot got caught
on the window ledge I batted at it with my witch’s broom.
God, I was an idiot.) But half a dozen armed robbers
in my room. Having flown all the way
to Freetown on a British Caledonian jet
I took umbrage. The picked-for-prettiness-and-language-skills
“air hostesses” had worn Scottish tartan tailored into fetching,
figure-hugging outfits that yelled
demure but whispered
bosoms. In those days they came running
when you pressed the button overhead,
even when you were sitting in coach.
Apart from the nuns there was no one
to whom I could report the armed robbery.
They tut-tutted and told me to hire a night
watchman—though you couldn’t trust Africans,
they added, so be careful. I’d stopped reminding them
my father was black—water off a duck’s
back. Around the nuns’ whitewashed convent
was a stark white wall as welcoming as a chastity belt.
You needed rappelling equipment or a bishop’s ring
to scale it, which was why the nuns were left
alone. That and Father Stefano, who had a rifle
(and Jesus, of course, who didn’t).
Machetes: several. Me: one.
On the corrugated tin roof that night—deluge.
In the decades since, rain and robbery
are as intertwined in my head as women
and service used to be.
They stole the silver ring my mother
gave me. Worth almost nothing,
it was the thing I missed the most. They tried
to take my savings book, too, which was why I chased
them and made them drop it. Banks in Sierra Leone
wanted proof of deposit, and my savings book
was all the proof I had that I’d been squirreling away
every penny so I could fly home after a year to see
my mother. My little red savings book was as precious
to me as Mao’s book would be to a communist.
I missed my mother, my best friend,
the way a nun would miss the Eucharist.
I was pitch-black lonely.
I’d been allowed to bring one suitcase
to last me two years. I’d stuffed it with “T’s”:
t-shirts, toiletries, terror and tampons.
I brought my boom box and Stevie Wonder
to make the bush feel more like the South
of London, where I used to sit in my hungry bedroom
like a fool and dream of going to save something
very grateful, something very large.
from Rattle #51, Spring 2016
Tribute to Feminist Poets
[ download audio]
Lucinda Roy: “I am a feminist of color committed to exploring issues experienced by women and girls I’ve known, and the girl and woman I myself have been/am, even now, becoming. I believe that the essence of poetry is its ability to communicate across difference—something we seem to need now as much as ever. ‘Machetes: Several’ portrays an armed robbery I experienced while teaching in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Although it was long ago, it’s an episode that still haunts me, still obliges me to reconsider violation by looking at it through a complex, multifaceted lens, especially in light of what happened to that impoverished country subsequently.” ( website)