Lucinda Roy's publications include the poetry collections The Humming Birds (winner of the Eighth Mountain Poetry Prize), and Wailing the Dead to Sleep; the novels Lady Moses and The Hotel Alleluia; and a memoir-critique, No Right to Remain Silent: What We've Learned from the Tragedy at Virginia Tech. Her poetry has appeared in many journals, including North American Review, American Poetry Review, Blackbird, Callaloo, Measure, Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, and River Styx. She is an Alumni Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing at Virginia Tech, where she teaches fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry in the MFA program.
Custodians of the Bush
Africa was a few days old and I was still a Catholic.
Fifteen feet above my head on my roof of corrugated tin,
corpses were being flung—or toddler-sized bags of rice,
or paunchy parachutists in stilettos.
My malaria-pill nightmare had sweated me awake
but this unscheduled visitation slaughtered sleep
for good. Under the mosquito net the virgin
I was then debated her next move.
Reason made me brave: monkeys, most likely.
Back then, rape was not in fashion, children hadn't been schooled
to chop off their neighbors' hands. The virgin crept outside.
Just past dawn and pot-bellied children were scurrying off to work.
Foreign Virgin, the bush yelled—its accent flavored
with just a hint of genocide—what the hell are you doing here?
A grubby goat was tethered to a nearby post, its crusty eyes
bulging in dismay, its bleating urgent as a jackhammer.
I saw them then, lined up like soldiers: the jungle's janitors,
the bush's last word in jurisprudence.
From the safety of my roof, a trinity of vultures
eyed the goat and me like shoppers peering at an expiration date.
Hungry, humorless generals, all they had to do was wait.
I taught the excised village girls to explicate Macbeth,
how not to explicate a virgin. I grew accustomed
to the birds' ungainly dance. I forgot the goat—
not devoured by the trinity after all but by the missionaries.
I lived the way expatriates live in the bush—with one beady eye
on an exit. Vultures are the archangels of hygiene. We,
on the other hand, who kill to kill, have always known
the bones we toss aside can never be picked clean.
On the Syllabus Today: Blue Skies
Today I awake sizzling with hope. I'm determined
to teach something that can't be undermined
I'm an elder of sorts—passing into the age of wisdom.
Today everything I say will emphasize viability
I will be emphatic but not orthodox. I will plough the land
of post-apocalyptic post-adolescence like a farmer or a priest
Inside the class-confessional, beside the mournful furrows
of the earth, we won't ask each other awkward questions
like what does rampage mean?
History will not simmer—we will not be surprised
Inside in the bald cupola of Virginia Tech's Green Zone
youth will look at me with eyes wide open
Beyond the classroom windows' polite geometry, things
tunnel up through the earth—renegade poppies
But today I will direct the eyes of youth upwards
I will point to the sky's bland immensity of blue
the only point of view elders dare pass on
to their vibrant vulnerable young