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Mildred Barya


you are loved, 

body and soul 

but cannot express your true nature, 

                              your appetites hidden

the hallelujah grows cold on your tongue

broken, lonely,

a radiant melancholy. 

But you open up considerably

in your poetry

             feeling the hum of your body cells 

             ticking, knocking against the ribcage

the energy of your heartbeat

intention in your fingertips

dissecting emotions 

looking specifically for joy.

you are loved considerably

as you attend to feeling

your connection divine

              your mind like marble sails

              the pillars of your heart shine

alive with light like

a bright alabaster jar

no hair on your head now but a spherical,

translucent glass

moving in light

reaching out, in

sensuous beauty, 

luminous, numinous 

immeasurable you.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Mother and I

take turns visiting.

We keep his favorite 

brand of rice in the cabinet

And eat it when it’s about 

to expire, then buy more. 

Our breathing is steady

through the years.

When we finally get the 

call, we will assiduously 

Walk to the back door and 

welcome my father in our arms.


I wish for myself 

the god Mercury—

speed and lightness

as I create.

But what appears

through my door

is methodical


Timid ugly head 

of spikes sits 

by my side.

Much as I try to

ignore it, its ways— 

its punctilious nature 

is already within me.

We work quietly. 

Mercury shows up

occasionally, but it’s

my hedgehog’s staying 

power that sustains.

The Wisdom of Sea Cucumbers

When stressed or under attack, sea cucumbers expel their internal organs—viscera—an act known as evisceration. A few days later, they regenerate the organs lost, which might include the gut, vessels, tentacles, anterior portion of the body wall, and strands of gonad. We talk of writing that is visceral, cutting to the marrow. Nowadays I don’t throw that word around unless my organs are truly involved. 

Imagine you were able to contract the body wall muscles acutely, causing abdominal cavities to tear and the anus to open as you release an organ, while telling your aggressor: There’s my kidney, I leave you my liver, and so on, as you walk away. Imagine how powerful your defense. 

To eviscerate is also to deprive something of its essential content or force, and to surgically disembowel. There’s a Dutch band that goes by the name, Eviscerated. I suggest you do not listen to it. Besides surgeons and skilled torturers, people who have come close to using the method are the Ancient Egyptian embalmers. They eviscerated bodies of the dead as part of the process of mummification.

I ate a sea cucumber for the first time in Guangzhou, China. I thought it was a vegetable that grows under the sea. I enjoyed the mushroom-like texture in my mouth, rubbery and filling. Later, when I was on Skype with a friend, he asked what I had consumed for dinner. When I told him, he laughed. Curious, I googled “sea cucumber” and the images almost made me throw up. I wondered if I would eat one again now that I knew how it looked, what it was. What bothered me most was the lack of a brain.

The Tools We Carry

This happens at Wash Park. Through the sextant’s eye, the sun is lime green and sits on top of the lake. Every four seconds it moves. We are still on the bench. Folks come and go. Geese poop, eat, and squirrels pick nuts off the trees. We are here and there, in space and time, measuring distance, speed and altitudes. The man with a red hat sitting next to me tells me it’s not the sun that moves but earth rotating. Because the body of earth is huge and we are on it, we don’t see it circling the sun. Instead, we have the reversed image of the sun in motion. This is the magic of science; what is and what appears to be, a source and then the apparent source. 

I begin to wonder if one could fall asleep and wake up as someone else. A successful simulacrum orbiting without breaking sequence, yet never forgetting what is. Or isn’t. 

I see the sun and then the sunlight, 

Light and the light source all at once. 

The friend of fractals keeping in mind the apparent source,

Looking for a man-made refrain that breaks the sequence. 

When we say the sun moves from east to west, 

Where are we (in motion) finding center and decentering?

Leonard Cohen Saves the Maiden

An old woman with two front teeth missing is swishing her hands, making scooping 

movements to harvest my shadow. 

I keep moving, avoiding her, but she knows how to find me. We are in the yard at my 

parents’ house. If she catches my shadow, she will do anything, might even kill me. 

I pray the sun to go down but who knows what tricks she may have. 

One of my exes, the one I sent on the way with best wishes appears and distracts 

the old woman with a Leonard Cohen song. That’s how I manage to escape.

The Movement of Bodies

My body was buried without a heart—having donated it along with the left kidney and brain to the state. But I feel whole. I’m kept busy with new arrivals. My job is to welcome them, tell them to feel at home. Forget what they say about St. Peter minding the door. He is never here. I do not know who I am exactly. I wear a purple gown with buttons in front. When it gets hot, I unbutton. In a corner lies a bundle of beautiful clothes I was buried in: A green scarf, a beige dress and white shoes. I remember owning the dress and scarf but not the shoes. Since I stay on my feet a lot, I wear Vibram Five Fingers. They’re comfortable. There is plenty of dust and no mirrors. I would like to tell you about the others, what they do and say but I don’t hear a thing besides the swinging door. I stand in the doorway, say welcome, hand the new arrivals a change of clothes which are mysteriously placed in my arms by I don’t know who, then I step aside and let them enter where they disappear into the great hall. As they move, I see fog appearing suddenly and swallowing them. Hot or cold, fog is present. 

18 Notes to Finish

After Derek Walcott’s “Love After Love”

When I arrive home from a long walk,

I open the door and tell my presence, enter

I fetch a Cabernet from the cabinet

And a tall, graceful glass.

I step out of the kitchen into the living room

And sit with myself. Pour my soul into the glass, 

Taste and drink it. A honeyed fragrance like fresh mulch 

Rises to meet me. Earthy notes, blackberry finish.

I run fingers across my hands and arms,

Years of shea butter have softened the skin

Even the elbows speak tenderness.

I sip the years that are yet to come,

And lovingly gaze into the person I have become.

Welcome home, I announce to myself, nodding.

Like the wine, full-bodied, mature, 

Loneliness leaves no sourness on my palate but

Delectable calm. Time swells and collapses on itself

While I am here, keeping my own company, feeling enough.

Mildred K. Barya is a writer from Uganda and assistant professor at UNC-Asheville, where she teaches creative writing and world literature.

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