A Poem by Andrew Kaufman

Arriving in Kibuye, Rwanda

On the steep mountain road
   down to the market,
      high-school girls

with the spirited
   laughter of the young
      leaving school

overtook me.
   With a mischievous smile,
      her elbow brushing mine,

the taller one asked,
   What do you love most
      in Kibuye?

I don’t know,
   I just arrived . . .
      The sun on Lake Kivu.

The clouds’ shadows
   floating across
      the mountains.

I could have mentioned
   the acacia blossoms
      in their tropical sleep

or the arcs of young palm trees,
   which embraced me on the footpath
      between the mountain and the lake,

where a few thousand people
   died among birdcalls and folk songs
      the Interahamwe were singing.

Bon Soir, she said, shyly,
   and left us
      at a dirt crossroad.

Her friend,
   who took her place,
      told me,

Mzungu, when she asked,
   ‘What do you love best in Kibuye,’
      You were supposed to tell her, ‘You.’

She touched a finger
   to my pale brown forearm.
      People here

love this color.
   Where do you go now?
      What do you wish

to do here?
   My wife waits at the market
      I said, pointing toward town.

The girl’s father
   must have been
      a murderer.

Three Tutsis survived,
   says a plaque near the church
      in Kibuye.

Otherwise, each man
   not murdered
      was a murderer.

She must have been
   two at the time, or three.
      ‘Désolée,’ she whispered,

and when I turned there was nothing
   beside me on the red dirt road,
      nothing at all but sunlight. ♦

* Editor’s Note: This is one in a sequence of poems based on interviews with genocide survivors and convicted perpetrators in Rwanda. For historical context and background information, readers are encouraged to seek out Andrew Kaufman’s September 2020 essay in Today’s American Catholic, “The Devil Was Running Things Then: The Rwandan Genocide and the Poetry of Witness,” which includes an account of writing his poem “Life Sentence.”

Andrew Kaufman’s most recently completed book, The Rwanda Poems, is forthcoming from New York Quarterly Books. His previous books include The Cinnamon Bay Sonnets, winner of the Center for Book Arts Award, Earth’s Ends, winner of the Pearl Poetry Award, and Both Sides of the Niger. He is an NEA recipient. View more of his work at his website, Andrewkaufman.wordpress.com, and reach him via email at Andrewkauf@aol.com.

Image: Exterior of Genocide Memorial Church with Never Again display in foreground, Karongi-Kibuye, Western Rwanda | Wikimedia Commons / Adam Jones Ph.D. | CC BY-SA 3.0

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