Three Poems
Home as Shrapnel

In a Nebraska grocery store, packets of corn yellow 
     at me from the shelves and I’m back to the planting	 
     season, when the rains have appeased the land, 

when the soil crunches as if it enjoys being hacked 
     with a hoe. In shallow holes, we planted three seeds
     of corn. In four months, we’d be back, breaking cobs 

from stems, hurrying home to beat the sunset. 	
     Then, a bonfire. A circle of people arranged by age
     and generation. Then, folklore retold with songs 

by grandma. In the evening breeze, we inhaled the scent 
     of corn turning golden in the fire, a treat we considered
     more precious than our supper of boo-agura and layata

or muranga and mucele, or lapena-agaka and kwon kal 
     or otigo-lwoka and kwon-unga, or obuga-agura and layata
     okwara or lakotokoto and rec ma otwo. Then, the night 

sky. We learned to count by pointing at stars, assigned
     numbers to the biggest and brightest, and gifted our names 
     to the ones that huddled in groups. In Ulaya, small bits 

of home occasionally shoot to the fore like shrapnel —the prickly 
     nostalgia it stirs in the mind and bones, and the pleasure 
     of beholding what until then only lived as memory. 

On the way home, I place the bag of groceries by the sidewalk 
     and listen to a flock of whooping cranes chorusing 
     an invitation to a display of their flying show. I tilt my head 

skywards, watch until their white shapes disappear behind giant 
     trees, until their songs are swallowed by sounds that make
     this city – humming cars, barking dogs, wailing sirens, howling

winds, cooing pigeons, shrieking squirrels, puffing bikers, silent 
     shoppers, screaming somebodies with troubled minds. I replay 
     every reminder of home, I sing them like praise songs for a suitor 

     I do not want to lose.  

Failed Resurrection

The Devil’s Ivy announced its death
with a naked stem. Its brown leaves

vigil at the foot of the flowerpot. 
I’ve been away on holiday, high on trust

that the indoor plant would excel  
at water fasting. Now I know time can 

make a carcass of anything. At my own
feet lie two decades of a wilted friendship.

Every word we say to heal the cracks  
echoes back at us like a mocking song. 

At meetups, we sword around each other 
as though we never once ate the same 

mango, licking the juice that ran down 
each other’s budding arms. Unlike some 

plants that rebloom after a drought, our 
bond has heeded no resuscitation. I join 

the Ivy leaves to mourn their once-green
golden life. I scoop a handful of dry soil 

from the pot and feel its brittle skin,
hoping it holds the secret to our revival. 

Reaching for Whatever the Wind Carries

The walls of my Nebraska apartment shrink 
around me – a hand folding into a fist. It’s day two 
     of my self-inflicted isolation. A dark cloud kneels 
     on my chest – an elbow pressing sore flesh. The sun glares 

through the windows daring me to go face 
the outside. But I remain prisoner on a lofty blue 
     couch until the workout app says it’s a perfect day 
     to get moving. On the Billy Wolff Trail, I ride my bike like mad. 

My salvation rests in how hard
I peddle, how fast I push this body until it tears 
     into sweat. No help from the soft gear today. I don’t 
     touch the brakes as two girls appear, chatting by the sidewalk. 

They break into smiles and only then 
do l realize how hard I have been clenching 
     my jaws. My smile is painful but enough. 
     A mile later, three people made one by homelessless smoke 

under a bridge and blow their destitution 
into the wind. I reach for the same wind, gulping 
     whatever it’s carrying. I strap my burdens on 
its back and hope it discards them at its farthest stop. 

*Photo by REGINE THOLEN on Unsplash.

Ber Anena
Ber Anena is a Ugandan poet, writer, and performer. Her writing has been published in The Atlantic, adda, Black Warrior Review, Off Assignment, and New Daughters of Africa anthology, among others. Anena is the author of A Nation in Labor, a debut poetry collection that won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa in 2018. She attended the MFA Writing program at Columbia University in New York and is pursuing a Ph.D. in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.