Saturday, 28 March 2020


Mysteries of Love

by Moná Ó Loideáin Rochelle 


I Flight

What of night?            There are no fires.
Wind wafts smoldering wood. Mother whispers
improbable tales of love during black panther nights.

Near midnight moon haloed birdsong lulls
us to sleep. It’s then she cries for him—
our father. Him in his birthplace. His face

at the edge of the lake—our crops in flames.
On his knees, he begs, Pitié, as militants level guns. 
And from his head                 rivulets of red.

Imagine. Rain as a celestial song, imagine trekking
kilometer after kilometer through snarled forest
for seventeen months. No one knows the way.

Not even mother. We stay silent, traipsing splayed 
hooves of bongos, narrow prints that lead
to somewhere. And afternoons? The sun burns

mosaic through canopied palms, etching prisms
of blue needled julienite as bonobos offer us guava 
& garcinia. This, my friend, is a treatise of mothers’ 
love
                                                from beginning to 
                                  end.



II After a Killing

If this is the way you will deal with me, then 
please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need 
no longer face my distress.                                                
          NUMBERS 15:11


I am spirit.                     I am nine months old.
My soul the color of cassava, a field of bright
white cassava—with clarity of fire. I see countless 
Yellow-billed kites slowly cross God’s dome.
We’re told a child sleeps in the womb,
some to be born under an iridescent moon:
I was born under a blood moon.
            Rapacious beasts, roving rebels
rive, rape, vitiate. A pouring of fuel fills
my virginal vestibule & a match struck
cobalt blue ignites violently—inside me.
& then the shot of a gun, point blank,
through my wound. & when I open
my eyes to the sun, I see my mother—
who formed me named me Immaculée.
           

III Light You Cannot See

A mother on hands knees & in her womb
a heart beats in its blood cave, cord pulsing
in rubied darkness. Labour of labours.
Like the sea—a storm—wave crashing
upon wave. in her anguish she groans,
I’m afraid. No family to console her.
The midwife trilled in Swahili—
                        I won’t leave you.

Twenty hours later, the infant enters
the narrow lumen—head crowning,
adorned in rosettes of red gem cuprites
& black garnets unfurling like a dayflower,
                        blooming like an Egyptian Starcluster.
           
The midwife lays the babe (pure &
blameless) on the young mother’s breast
in dream-like light             sublime white light.
The camp resounds with joyful laughter when
they’re told the mother names her daughter,
                        Exaucée, meaning prayer fulfilled.
Above the tent rain clouds open, fragrant
with petrichor, promising much needed water.
It was then the midwife’s thoughts drifted,
thoughts of New Mexico’s cloudless skies
& mesas of fragrant piñon & sea-green sage.
Yes, she’s been away far too long from him
                        & from her children.


IV A Child’s Litany

They came & took us away.
We were on foot, you ahead,
I behind. Six tail-biting serpents
wore guns slung over their backs.
We girls held hands, strung together
like mother’s rosary.
There were so many friends I felt safe.
There was an emerald river crossing—
shards of light falling, snagged
in the green burn of noon, where
the jungle, a gateway to marsh,
swallowed us whole.

It was a Mai-Mai camp—I think.
My sister held me close. I could see
their leader, The Terminator
(my sister called him The Bush Viper).
When I cried my sister said,
‘Don’t be afraid.’       
But I wasn’t afraid.
I was hungry.

The six mambas stripped me,
ugly puff adders, cobras
with sharp fangs smiling.
                                               
My sister clothed me—she smelled of fresh grass
                                   
& tried to console me, cooing—

‘Remember the field of maize tasting of mystery,
            sky barely visible, our secret place,
                        the keeper of peacocks?

Remember singing with songbirds dancing
            under a thousand shadows of trembling
gold leaves?

Remember our garden full of friends & the rain        
            ruffling palms swallowtails
taking flight on wind?’

I remember mother’s voice, an angelic river 
singing.
I remember her caress.                     I can taste 
her kiss.


V Envenomation

Today, I search for you in sleepless
dreams. I don’t think about the ambush
tactics of snakes or soldiers’ gray souls.
I don’t think about lacerations too secret
to heal or castration with blunt machetes
or injustice that quarries one’s heart. I don’t
think of severed hands bathed in blood
or killing everything living or fields full
of dead bodies, our meadows of sorrow.
           
Come back to me maker of song today
& mark a sevenness moon under a bright
Congolese night. I’ll pull your body close,
your flesh of fragrant cassia we’ll listen
to le langage tambourine.                   I think
of your soul, my soul, one in love.
I think
of your lips I can’t kiss.
Forgive my cowardice.
Did you think I abandoned
you in our pillaged village?

No. Bush vipers abducted me. I’m afraid &
have forgotten how to pray.
LORD deliver me from forever.



V Saint Dominic Church in Limete

& when they lift their eyes in the village church,
a pastoral peace of morning mass descends

like a Senegal dove filling the morning with 
fluttering wings. Family & friends—children of 
God—kneel.

A child listens to a Madagascar cuckoo’s song
from waving coconut palms outside & imagines

he too has wings. They sway & sing the hymn
Be Thou My Vision in reverence, this & more,

praising God’s wonders, calling for the Glory
of God. Amen. Holy of holies, hear our prayers.

Amen, amen. Mary Mother of God, sorrow
of sorrows, console the dead! Amen, amen, amen.

in his wisdom, Father Nkongo blesses them, 
sending them off with words of love, ‘Do not hate,

for the world can only be redeemed by love. 
Remember God knows you each by name,

each irreplaceable. Go in peace to love & serve
the LORD.’ & as the flock flows forth like a river

through a narrow dam, waiting ‘security’ open fire. 
Mothers clutch their child to the breast, birds

in a nest. Moved by the mothers’ courage, 
the priest sprints forward, finding himself at the front

of the crowd, arms stretched out like a branch,
like St. Kevin’s arms—stiff as a crossbeam!

A drunk child soldier shoots Father in the head.
Is he dead? & when Nkongo shouts out,

‘We’re no abattoir,’ the faithful clap their hands!
& then he shouts each soldier out by name,

one by one by one. He smiles like a child,
                                    blessing the crowd.


Dénouement

My friends, open your hearts, journey with me & 
contemplate the unnameable tales of unnameability.


ENTRACTE

Death comes through borders       invisible.
Ebola rages.                Civil wars a débouché.
Words?                        Cataclysmic cacophonies.
So many memories:                One from 80,000
years ago, Wene wa Kongo.    It reached from 
daybreak’s Lualaba River to days end saltwater
sea, l' océan Atlantique.          A land of a thousand
scented lilies, perfumed plumeria, wild
ginger’s bite of spice.

Jesuit missionaries wrote that the people
used telegraphe de brousse 2,000 years ago,
thrumming drums of dried goat skins,
words crossing rivers & forests.
           
                                    But then King

Leopold came calling             naming it,
Congo Free State, where indentured slave
shadows shrank from Belgian masters’
madness & machetes & mass murders—
all in our beloved land. And in villages?       
                        Children watching.

What can you say about militants who force
young sons to rape & kill their mothers under
a crazed moon—all to plunder rubber & black
diamonds in Leopold’s name?
           
Now we call it—Democratic
Republic of Congo, whose borders bleed
Congolese into Uganda & Rwanda:
                        a half million refugees.
& what of the five million IDPs?
what of the 19,000 MONUSCO attachés?
what of the eight million dead?

America, word on word. Europe, echo on echo.
Who answers their bloodstained doors?



THE NATURE OF LOVE

I A Riddle

Riddle me this—
something’s amiss,
De Profundis:

for righteousness,

goodness, kindness.
Licentiousness
is their business,
& we don’t care.

A far-off world
so embittered,
so embattled,
yet love abounds!

Where endless wealth
ignores poor health
with poacher’s stealth!
Where might we be?

Crystal françoisite,
lime roubalite,
bright guilleminite,
where henchmen

steal malachite,
black tantalite,
red gem cuprite.
Etcher’s prisms

of loveliness
mined in darkness
& shamelessness,
feed despots’ greed.

Countless mines hold
reserves of gold
smuggled we’re told
into Dubai.

Tungsten & tin
& tantalum,
Taken! Stolen!
Worth three trillion!

Helter-skelter,
swelter, smelter,
lack of shelter,
in unsafe mines,

supply our slick
phones, electric
cars, laptop clicks.
Cobalt naïveté?

Uranium,
germanium,
& rhenium—
destruction looms.

Democracy?
Kleptocracy?
Demonocracy?
The DRC.


II Ask the Children from Afar to Forgive Us

He ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy 
those whom they met & to slay those who took 
refuge in their homes. There was a massacre of 
young & old, a killing of women & children, a 
slaughter of young women & infants.                                                     
                               2 MACCABEES 5:12-13

Anathema maranatha: poaching epidemics,
deforestation, species depletion, heavy metal 
pollution, land degradation & near extinction
of the black Grauer’s gorilla. Anathema maranatha:
consumer neediness & international conglomerate 
greediness. Anathema maranatha: specious militia.
Phantoms of hate kidnap the Children of God—
depraved defilement without impunity. Shadows
of genocide. Haven’t you heard? Women’s’ bodies
are battlefields? The Congolese Warlord, The 
Chairman, scoffed after a killing spree—
            When you’re a soldier everything’s free!

& in a JRS camp’s labyrinthine paths,
a child craves love: the beauty of a wild
orchid, a fragrant lily—all the while bleating
for her mother from a tent a woman sings,
Aren’t you Joséphine’s daughter? With a shy nod
the child, thin as wind, holds out her hand.
The wind’s still. It’s there—outside the camp
silhouettes of a white-winged sunbirds pass
overhead and the lightness of her mother’s
presence flashes across the parched sand.


III Plague

Hemorrhagic fever, bright alizarin,  sanguine 
haematite. Épidémiologiste dream outbreaks, 
unravel genus Ebolavirus inside wildlife: monkeys, 
chimpanzees, porc espis (reservoirs of the world’s 
deadliest disease). They find chains of transmission 
unforgiving. Send vaccines from the four corners. 
Who cares to hear? (Who hears?) Tell me if you 
know. Invisible contagion—child to child—friend to 
friend—village to village—city to city—country to 
country—friend to friend—child to child—kiss to 
kiss—unknown to unknown.


IV Fever Fugue

North Kivu’s a war zone. It’s different this time.
I might die. Headquarters radios evacuate:
/           Volatile            /           Violence        /
& in the isolation unit twelve children lie
in feverdreams, almost out of their minds.
I finalize reports on Ebola’s cross-border spread—
can’t send today—internet’s down.                WTF!
Likely the ADF.                                                                                 
I struggle to adhere to MSF protocol.
Putting the pen down I squint into the tent—
the child arrived just in time.
Fragile.            An orchid?                  A lily?            
She’s the age of my daughter Sinead in Inishmore.

I am Sanctifiée
daughter of Josephine, snatched away—
my family vanished dew. My flesh a blazing
a funeral pyre. Twenty-one days infected.   
The doctor loves me. She tells me,
you’ll live and soon see your brother. I maw—Brother?
Where’s my mother?

Dr. Farrell closes her eyes. All she can hear
is the echo of staff leaving.


V Translations

I come, fountain on fountain, fiery lava,
like Nyamuragira, eruption after eruption.

            ‘Truthfully, I’m not sure what
to say about an Ebola epidemic in a war zone.
To simply list bare facts of case investigation, 
detection, cross-border transmission & deaths—
to soon            becomes          near meaningless
to the world. Even our stories of staff, who in the 
course of visiting villages are                  
            attacked           by             fearful            
            grandmothers
wielding machetes—it’s grim &
makes for bad news. I’m no Guillaume Apollinaire!
I wish I was, poetry’s good for that.
Tell me what to do with that?’ asked
Anouk Scroch, an Amsterdammer assigned to Kivu.

& at that—making the sign of the cross—
the Congolese field worker in suit & tie reports,
‘In all seriousness, to explain what we see all day
you’d have to be a poet & I’m no Emmanuel 
Boundzéki Dongala! He’s an éclat.’ Then she 
added, ‘Nevertheless, since its genesis I’ve 
witnessed
holy innocents’ lives ended, nothing left acts of 
untold heroism of mothers
again & again & again.’

The Spanish epidemiólogo shouted,
‘Well, I’m no Miguel Hernández, but listen:
What’s complex & difficult & radically
ambiguous here—is truth—one either
does justice to reality  or destroys it.’
then the Spaniard recited
these lines from memory—
‘Sitting upon the dead fallen
silent these two months, I kiss empty shoes…
the nightingale of the pitiful, echo of bad luck,
to sing and repeat to those who must
hear me, everything of pain…’





NOTES

FLIGHT: Bongos-a herbivorous nocturnal threatened antelope, found in African dense forest; Bonobos- endangered great ape found in the DRC.

A CHILD’S LITANY: Mai-Mai are militia who use rape as a weapon of war. Accounts of these rapes include mutilation and the killing of unborn children. The sexual violence is so severe in the DRC that some have described rape as the worst in the world.

ENVENOMATION: Le langage tambourine- a drummed language.

SAINT DOMINIC CHURCH IN LIMETE: Stiff as a crossbeam is taken from St Kevin and the Blackbird by Seamus Heaney. Abattoir is French for slaughterhouse.

HOUSE OF FIRE: DRC is the centre of numerous exploitations of diverse metals in a multitude of mines and quarries; therefore, the poem lists DRC’s many precious gemstones and minerals.

ENTRACTE: Telegraphe de brousse-Drummed messages traveling up to 370 miles a day, a communication preceding Morse Code by 1,500 years; IDP-internally displaced persons; MONUSCO-Mission de l'Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République Démocratique du Congo, the UN’s peacekeeping force in the DRC.

ASK THE CHILDREN FROM AFAR TO FORGIVE US: JRS-Jesuit Refugee Service.

FEVER FUGUE: MSF- Médecins Sans Frontières; WTF-What the feck; ADF-Allied Democratic Forces armed group formed in 1995 on Islamic principles (Salafi doctrine).

TRANSLATIONS: End lines are from Miguel Hernández’s poem “Sitting Upon the Dead.”


* * * * *

"Mysteries of Love" was first published in The American Journal of Poetry (Volume 8: January 2020).

Killian Chimtom's interview on the poem "Mysteries of Love" was published in CRUX. M. Chimtom is a journalist for AFRICA and entitled it Catholic poet explores the contradictions of the Congo."

COMMENTARY by Moná Ó Loideáin Rochelle: I was born in Scituate, Massachusetts to Irish Catholic parents. My father, grandmother and grandfather all died the year I was born, leaving our family in poverty. In 1970, I dropped out of Boston College on a full scholarship and became a Certified-Nurse-Midwife. Years later I attended the University of Washington and obtained a PhD and MPH and entered academia. However, my most significant experiences occurred in post-civil war Liberia; Mombasa, Kenya; Abkahzia and the Republic of Georgia. Witness to evil firsthand in these places, the suffering, the victim’s accounts beyond comprehension, tormented me for a long time. It wasn’t until 2010 that I was accurately diagnosed with protracted, chronic PTSD, which had been compounded by early childhood incest and abuse. Mysteries of Love draws on these experiences, combining persona, patterned form, fact and fiction.




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