N’Djamena, Meaning ‘We Will Rest’

The day the looters broke into our house was the shot fired

as my father yelled and the fear that came with it, the window

darkened by the men looking in and the scuffing of sandals on

a packed-dirt yard, the grind of metal loosened, the voices

between walls, the bullet that never came, and the hack job that

never was by a drunken soldier wielding a machete under-

oiled and over-used on thickets by roads and rows of bodies.


I waited for an execution like at my friend’s house two years

before when a rebel was found hiding and forced to kneel,

a bullet to his brain. I waited against the wall seeking flatness,

transparency, hoping the shadows never recede. This was the end

of going to bed with no thought of fear, the beginning of chilled

sweats, the beginning of sounds signaling the departure of a place

once known—the sound of curtains riding wind, ceiling fans beating

air, the sound of opened bags and belongings strewn across the floor,

of receding taillights and a street littered with empty shells.



Sky dark when she goes to work

and dark when she returns, Fatima

picks her kids up from school


and picks her groceries up late

and picks herself up when the length

of day wears her. Her boys make faces


and talk with strangers, and they don’t know

the face of their father or fathers,

knowing only to eat, sleep, wake


the bus will get you soon,

come in the dinner gets cold,

don’t play ball in jeans on wet grass—


the stain will not come out. It’s all right,

it’s all right, she still sings at night,

folding laundry to the tune of a Bantu-


laced language and hoping that her children

will hear her as they sleep and wake up

speaking anything but English.



He had invited me over for coffee, and so we sat

sipping clear glasses—the way he always made it

syrup-sweet, sludge-thick so that it burns the throat.


We sat in his one-room mud house, on a flowered rug

shuttled across oceans and deserts to reach us

on the Saharan edge, windswept and forgotten.


I watched him heat coals in a brazier, place them

in an iron and hover his hand over its surface,

judge it ready to press fresh clothes.


I watched as he spread his shirt across the rug,

brush it with heat until it lost its wrinkles,

then fold it with a hand, his only good hand,


which had survived a botched birth, broken

in his brother’s wake and set by a marabout

tying it too tight with unskilled hands—


the arm still twisted eighteen years later,

a reminder of the mother who died giving him life

and the brother, unblemished, whose prospects


are as clear as the skies emptied of harmattan rain

when his own cloud over, doomed to watch others

drive the herds out in the morning or mount


the market trucks as hired hands. I know he irons

every Saturday. He sprinkles water on a pair of pants,

picks up the iron, brings it down, presses and repeats.

Aaron Brown


Aaron is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Maryland and the author of the poetry chapbook Winnower (2013) as well as the novella Bound (2012), both published by Wipf and Stock. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Warscapes, The Portland Review, North Central Review, Saint Katherine Review, The Penwood Review, Polaris, Illya’s Honey, and The Prairie Light Review.

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