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.