Sambisa Forest, Nigeria



The forest here is made of girls

and automatic weapons. A sparrow calls

across a thicket of brushwood. The antelope gather


but not like warnings. When peacekeepers

come searching for the stolen girls,

the men hide the girls beneath the earth. Should this look


more like violence? The flatland is knotted

with groves of acacia, mesquite, wild black plum,

clots of thornbushes too dense for flight. The story
splinters out. Two girls leapt from the lorry

before it reached the forest. They sleep beneath stars

in the forked base of a red bushwillow. A velvet silence


wraps them. At home their brothers split seasoned logs

of trees like this, peeled the pale sapwood

to reveal the core of sky gray


heartwood good for charcoal and fires. The girls wake

and find a shepherd to carry the hurt girl home

across the handlebars of his bicycle. Inside the forest
the girls are told to choose: be made a bride,

or be a slave. A husband wraps his wife

in cloth and soon they have a son. When she’s rescued


the women at home hate her. They call her war bride,

and worse. No one touches her tiny son’s feet.

She stays covered and at night, in the heat,


a snake comes into the compound

and the boy is killed before he’s even reached a year.

The collared dove has a pale belly, pinkish-white.


The feathers it uses in flight are nearly black.

It’s the wild ancestor of the domestic dove

who’s held in cages elsewhere. The girls


are girls, their bodies porous

and woundable. The animals

can’t help them.


Nancy Reddy is the author of Double Jinx (Milkweed Editions, 2015), a 2014 winner of the National Poetry Series, and the chapbook Acadiana (Black Lawrence Press, 2018). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Blackbird, The Iowa Review, Smartish Pace, and elsewhere. The recipient of a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, she teaches writing at Stockton University in southern New Jersey.