ADDIS HOT BOX
Two Addis sisters locked shoulders in a jello mould of jazz.
The club was a hot box of twinkly stars and loose laws of rain.
Smoked a pack of Nyala hoping for a husband that night.
Spent decades in the bathroom, zipping up my past.
It was midnight when I left, street dogs were falling in love,
Howling commitments far exceeding any I had made
In my travels there or back around the corner to you.
If all went well, I’d be in Harar by Monday, chewing chat,
To admire the lashes of Abdunasir, who talks to Rimbaud’s ghost.
But things did not go well. The moon skipped. Harar came to stalk me
At the one and only Baklava house in Addis, where my sorrow matched
The green painted walls, and felt a twinge of recognition
With Kenny Rogers’ portrait hanging lopsided near the flickering light.
I asked those standing at my table if anyone here was from Harar,
And would I maybe marry a man from the city of saints?
The men simultaneously sliced into pages of pastry
Drenched in hot honey, smirking, oblivious to a smoldering fear
Gathering smoke in my heart. No one would ever know
That this was happening. I had freckles and a large body
To disguise the monster in me wanting everything, Harar.
That night, I would return alone to the tiniest bar
On the narrowest street, where the sickest kids
Licked their snot and frolicked in mud and shit,
Where old chanting men wrapped in green robes
And soaked turbans offered me their leathery hands.
Where the Addis sisters recognized me, took me in
And shook me, shoulder shimmy to shoulder, back to life.
HARAR TO DAR CHANT
The road to the airport empties into silk.
I chant for the boys and their bundled bicycles.
Back in Dar, I keep Harar’s secrets.
Remember my last meal: abundant green salad
Beets and bananas, avocado and potato,
Vinegar and salt, the final macchiato.
Dar offers mosquitoes, bats, buildings,
A quiet sea of star and palm.
On the verandah of the pink building,
I inhale, say a prayer to Harari saints.
Harar, chant for the red stone set in silver.
Harar, chant for the green scarf.
Harar, chant for the magic hyena.
Harar, chant for Hamdi’s hour.
Harar, chant for chewing chat.
Harar, chant for the deaf girl.
Harar, chant for the ancient gates.
Harar, chant for Rimbaud’s ghost.
Harar, chant for chai and chatter.
Harar, chant for Allah’s ringtones.
Harar, chant for sister cities.
Harar, chant for saints and spies.
Harar, chant for this goodbye.
I fall in love easily.
Guant airport guard, a potential husband.
A husband in each city, a temporary.
I am a good bride.
I marry the moment.
LAST LETTER TO KENYA
Dear Philip, I met you in hunger-time:
Fruit as flesh for birds and men.
You walked barefoot
Selling used shoes.
I met you when
Birds and men fought
For space on the streets.
Wrapped in black
Dark arms around me
Like a question.
History books, useless.
The look you gave me
I could not forge your name
Or rummage through time to find
What we’d remember today.
My arms reached into your country
And returned with small fragments
Of sound – your sister’s minted spin,
The hunger pains.
We must have been blind: your question
Was quiet but I felt my skin
Rise, a body’s Braille: fear.
Revolution in the shape of a kiss?
Our teeth might fall out.
We took the risk.
You lived without a body
Without legs to walk away.
You slept without a throat.
You walked without a coat.
Your mother died first.
The liver, the heart.
A healthy branch bends,
She was the green in you,
The wish that bent but never broke.
I keep all your letters.
You scrawled small words:
I don’t know why.
I don’t know when.
And you died
Before I could answer.
Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein is a writer and poet from Chicago, IL (USA) with a heart tilted toward the Swahili Coast. Her poetry appears in The Moth (Ireland),
Another Chicago Magazine, Wicked Alice, In Posse Review, Konundrum, Painted Bride Quarterly, Horseless Review, Paul Revere’s Horse, Contrary, among others. Essays appear or are forthcoming in Hypertext, Selamta, Teachers & Writers, Mambo, Addis Rumble, Art in the Public Interest, AramcoWorld, among others. She is a 2006 Vermont Studio Center Poetry Fellow and in 2014 she trekked to Harar, Ethiopia to commune with the spirit of Arthur Rimbaud. Amanda currently edits for Global Voices Online and is working on a book of essays about faith, sex, and belonging. Follow her on Twitter @travelfarnow.
Photo credits by Amanda Lichtenstein.