The Siege of Freetown Chapbook



For two years I lived and worked in Freetown, Sierra Leone, using all the resources at my disposal (mostly a very busy xerox machine and an always available meeting room on U.S. Information Service premises) to help a group of brave, determined women dislodge a vicious military junta and start a beleaguered country on its voyage to democracy.  Meanwhile, a shockingly brutal civil war was being financed by “blood diamonds.”  Sierra Leone is a small country, but child exploitation and human mutilation on any scale are soul-searing.  Here are the opening lines from my tribute to a beautiful land and to the good people who suffered so much for so long:


I hit them hard in my hurry. The steps creaked
and bent and threatened to snap, but missing a word
of the news, our lifeblood news, on BBC FM
was not to be thought of. I didn’t knock, never
knocked. Friends don’t. Just slipped in and sat,
facing the Mayor, my host, ears cocked
for every syllable from a crisp British voice
unfolding the latest vileness in a war begun
next door but ours now: a testament to lust
for ugly little stones muscled up from mud pits
and smuggled out, to be cut and polished and sold
as ageless emblems of elegance, affluence, love.

High above the city and the college and a flat
indigo sea, eyes closed, listening hard,
I tried, as did my village headman friend,
to feel remote and safe in that paradise
of tiny Krio settlements and garden plots
ravaged, for now, only by chimpanzees
still hunted in the bush, but here mostly chased
by little boys with pebbles and shouting.

Updating done, for now, the Mayor clicked off
the precious little Sony he'd set between us
on a table draped for tea with a pretty scarf
cross-stitched in girlhood by a genteel aunt.
Tearing open a pack of Britannia biscuits
just fetched from the village boutique by one
of many grandchildren (all of whom preferred
a fistful of the M&Ms I always brought),
he arranged the cookies on a plate. Snatching
some candy, the boy climbed up on Grandpa's lap.

“When I was this lad’s age,” the Mayor recalled,
"we had a piano. My Mother's pride.” His voice
held more than a trace of rue over worlds lost....

End Notes ChapbookEND NOTES

Recovering from the shock (but not the anger) induced by the unnecessary and painful  death (due to post-operative medical negligence) of someone who’d once been close to me, I wrote this set of 17 poems which seem to demand their own space. Here are three from the sequence I call End Notes:

The lease
on my house

was never
an option

hermit crabs
survive without
a shell?


Give me
the touch of life,
your fine firm body
matched to mine,
your heat
to mask
my numbness.


A kind god
would gentle us out,
knowing we’d done
as well as we could
with the luck
we had.

This god
would open
to fix our eyes
on Cassiopia,
the Milky Way,
the ascendent moon,
the Pole Star.

Snuffing the light,
as in theaters,
so slowly
it’s hard to be sure
when dimming’s begun,
or dark’s arrived,
this god
would tenderly
let us