River Without Mercy

by Lea Banks

For Mariatu Kamara

Giggling in the lunatic desert, girls play hide
and seek in the wadis, dry river beds. Mamas
down river, papas tend cattle.
A slight of safety binds them to this world.
One girl hid under an old junk car.

Boy soldiers, hawks, jagged arrows, tease
a pocket mouse out of the nest, stifle screams
with fists. The girl, their hardscrabble prey. Hips spread
wide by wrought muscle boys, tight spilling out
of their saw-tooth jeans. One parades down
the dumb dirt road, panties on his AK-47.

The lead boy, Lord’s Resistance Army
with machete, a shark’s tooth
proud round his neck. The girl shrinks,
too small to batter: a tiny tick.

A language older than words, younger
than the boy’s flesh, steadies him as he slashes
her hand. Her hand clutches air
as it bullets on the dead sand,
tracked by a line of fat blood.

Her insides rinse red in the fragmentary river.
Broken gloved fingers stitched like ghost
hands, deep in the folds of her dress.

Lea Banks has published in several journals and anthologies including The Laurel Review, Connotation Press, Big River Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Sweet, and American Poetry Journal and recently was a fellow at the Vermont Studio Center. She’s been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and is the author of All of Me, (Booksmyth Press, 2008). Lea Banks lives in Gill, MA and is the founder of the Collected Poets Series in Shelburne Falls. She also is the Poetry Coordinator for the Brattleboro Literary Festival in Vermont.