Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Silence of the Children

Generally I try to make it a rule to not post my poetry on my blog. I try to keep my writing separated. Too much cross over and I get confused, and I have no desire to make a poetry blog at this time. 

But I just turned this poem in and my teacher seemed to like it. I had to write a piece that reflected a piece we read in class, so I wrote after Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "The Cry of the Children" which focused on child labor in England. 

How she wrote reminded me a lot of my time in Africa working with refuges and some ex-child soldiers. 

So against my better judgement, please enjoy. 

The Silence of the Children
for Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“How long, O cruel nation, will you stand, to move the world, on a child’s heart?”

I saw a boy, oiling his AK-47 across the street,
his cloth wiping back and forth along the barrel of the gun,
no father’s shoulder to bury his head into
no mother to wipe the tears he doesn’t cry away,
while we, brothers and sisters, turn away and distance ourselves,
surrounded by the American Dream.
We can’t hear them weeping, because they can’t cry anymore.

And why should they cry? Why should we care about Uganda
and the civil war that rip the country apart?
We are concerned for our tomorrow,
our next vacation, the children’s Halloween party,
the trouble of stopping at the grocery store to get food for dinner.
We surround ourselves with a cocoon of things,
to protect us from the sight of those who have nothing,
and refuse to ask them
why they are standing on a street corner with an AK-47.

I asked him, the boy, why he was holding a gun.
“If I don’t follow orders,” he says, “I’ll be killed.”
There was nobody with him.
“Who will kill you, why would they kill you?” I asked.
“They killed my brother, forced me to hold a machete
over his body and hack him to tiny bits, all the while screaming
my brother, my brother, have mercy on me.”
He kept oiling, back and forth along the barrel of the gun
no father’s shoulder to bury his head into
no mother to wipe the tears he doesn’t cry away.

I walked through the slum, looking for some hope,
tripping over feces left laying in the dirt. I glanced
down an alley way to see a child nursing her baby,
her breast hanging limply from a frame of rips, no meat
left, yet still trying desperately to save her only child.
I sat next to her, letting the flies that were surrounding
her to  engulf me too, and I asked her why.
“When I was abducted I was raped, made to be the wife
of a man who was as old as my father, made to please
him every night, no matter how tired. I ran away,
even though they told me they would kill me if they
found me. I ran away, because if I hadn’t, they would
have taken her.” She looked down at the baby,
and caressed her cheek, looking at her with the
love of the mother she didn’t have any more.

When I ask what they do for fun,
they look at me blankly, not knowing the word.
They don’t know about playing, about
drawing pictures in the dirt or jumping rope.
They tremble when they stand, legs
not able to hold their frames up, exhausted
from running all night away from Joseph Kony
and his rebel soldiers, their own brothers, sisters,
and friends turned against them, running towards
them with guns on their shoulders and anger
shinning behind their eyes.

They can’t see children when they look at each other.
If the wars could just stop, they could touch each other’s hands,
and help bring back the humanity to each other’s lives,
recover and forgive the adults that turned them into killing machines.
They could remember that they were made to be loved, not to be tortured.
But when I tell them about God, they say “He is the one
in who’s name we are killing. We kill in the name of the 10 Commandments.
We see a God of violence and hatred. A God that will kill
anyone and everyone to have his way. Death is the only answer.”

If I tell them God is good, they nod in agreement,
saying, “God is good all the time.” They think
killing will somehow bring them a place in heaven,
or at the very least, keep them from being killed, themselves.
They cannot cry tears for themselves, or their friends they
have left bleeding on the side of the road, because their God
also hates their tears. So they look at me without expression,
and say, “God is good, but not to me. He only loves Joseph
Kony. He only loves our masters who rape us and beat us.
He only loves when we beat in the heads of the weak
and defenseless. God may be good, but not to me.”

How long can they keep holding on and fighting a war
that is not their own? How long till we help nation,
and forget about our PTA meetings and birthday parties.
There are children that need rescuing,  having no
mothers or fathers to rescue them, killing their own
country. And the silence of a broken
child sometimes speaks louder than their wailing.


  1. Lovely...lovely. Post things more often.

    This is heartbreaking.

  2. mind. blown.

    i heart you. and your lovely heart. ♥

  3. This is beautiful, Hannah. I'm glad you posted this. So many people are unaware of these cruelties. So many people are blind to the world around them. Thanks for bringing a little bit of awareness.

    I just found your blog and I love it!


  4. Hannah...I'm glad you chose to go "against your better judgement" this time. A poem...no, THIS poem, was the perfect way to share this experience with the rest of us. Thank you.

  5. How can I get there and when?
    not soon enough...
    But only in His timing...