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Leopoldville, Belgian Congo

The house by the river

Where he slept on a mat beside her bed

Barely older than she but a chasm between

He could not protect her from the dangers inside.

The native servants perfusing the Blacks’ comfortable White home

Did not shield them from disaster.

The commonality of the tribal quotidian grief brought incarnate

Into this foreigners' household whose vulnerability lay within its heart.

Will I ever know what truly happened

To my lost chance of sisterhood

With my unmet aunt who will remain forever two and a half years young?

Crocodiles or fever, those are the choices allowed me.

Or will the absence of a story haunt me

As it did my grande-mere in her colonial castle

Which did not last

And was never what she sought.

Her trip to Africa aboard the steamer

Was to find something beyond her ordinary fate

To settle upon a place where she could escape her feminine limits.

But love and motherhood drew her back to the real, inexorable imperilment.

The Congo wafted into her ready imagination

The receptive Liegoise seduced by the promise of independence and adventure.

Liberation from traditions which could only shrink her heady dreams.

She found herself free to find darker truths in a new continent.

In Leopold’s purloined region of infinite taking

Which Conrad captured in his frightening prose

She lost herself, as did so many.

Making her kin with the captured others, misled without ever leaving their home.

Belgian nurses of the Congo

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