I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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The pond black and bulging,
downed limbs poking from the water
like the stiff feet of fallen soldiers.
I drag the branches onto the shore,
globs of frog eggs surfacing like transparent brains,
Ana cupping the dimpled jelly,
the dogs licking it like caviar.
Entranced, she squeezes it
until I tell her to stop before she crushes the eggs.
Will plunks his toes into a fleet of tadpoles,
cold mud sucking his foot into its mouth.
I tell myself it’s not violence
but overeager love,
this lust with which they squeeze the living.
Meanwhile the rains have just started in Juba, Sudan,
making travel near impossible.
Still my husband pushes a jeep for hours
through four feet of mud, a Sudanese boy
lying unconscious in the back seat,
the jeep rocking and lurching
on the only road cleared of mines
as my husband tries to inch it forward, this, his own
labor of love. Like birth,
something always tears,
his foot jammed by a rock as he heaves and sinks,
his toenail tearing off, until even he gives up
and they turn back,
still forty miles from Aliab, the village waiting for them,
caught in an outbreak of cholera,
its one river littered with rusty ammunition,
trucks large as elephants lying on their sides.
When Deng, their Lost Boy, came home
after eighteen years,
the village elders sacrificed a white cow.
“Jump over it into peace,” they cried
while the women tipped their thin necks back,
their whips of ululation uncoiling in the heat.
A day later I find a frog shrunken in the corner of the
bathroom but still breathing. I race it to the pond,
children running confused behind me;
we watch it sink, stunned, still dried and wrinkled
despite its immersion in water, like Deng,
now more American than Sudanese, sitting wide-eyed
and stiff amidst the wailing and singing.
At dusk the peepers scream themselves into existence.
Ana and Will, draped in raincoats,
run like drunken tents across the field
toward all that must be squeezed.
Once I catch up, Ana is horrified —
two male frogs grip-locked onto a female, her flesh
bulging between the swollen buds of their fingers.
“They’re wrestling,” I say,
not wanting to reveal the darker side of mating.
And it occurs to me how I came to be married to my husband.
I followed him from country to country,
gripped him as hard as the frogs —
still he did not pry me off, as I have tried to do
with his overeager love for this gangly country of Sudan.
Who knows what will be torn next?
It’s just what happens when you love the world
and you move blindly, but well-intentioned,
through the irresistible mud.
The term “Lost Boys” refers to the 17,000 children in southern Sudan who fled their homes in 1987 seeking refuge from the civil war. About 3,700 resettled in the U.S., and some of those young men have recently returned to their homes in Sudan.