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The Buddha in South Sudan
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The Buddha in South Sudan

Yei, South Sudan

O, Sariputra    Form is Empty, Emptiness is Form

Tucked inside the mosquito net’sgauzy bubble, taut white fabricrounded over her cot like a bridal dome,she turns out her headlampso they can’t see her silhouette.

Outside, soldiers drink hard at the bar,a six-foot waitress shuffles by in flip-flopsshooing away flies scurryingin and out of the mouthsof bottles of Blue Nile.

From her room, she can hear Amin,all fire and brimstone from the throneof his broken, plastic chair.Unzipping herself from her stuffy bridal chamber,she peers out from behind the vinyl curtains of her cell.Despite the Blue Niles slugging through his veinshe still looks stunned, hijacked with adrenalinbusted red capillaries.

It starts to thunder,already whole chunks of roadgape open, another well-meaning aid project will [End Page 52] swell, loosen,come apart at the seams.She thinks of Taban, their tiny night guardwho slept in their closet with the ratsamidst the frayed electrical cords,leaky roof, bow and arrow at the ready,the one who robbed themand now sits in a dank Yei prison.

She thinks of her university back home, the academicspecking rabidly at their laptopswith their ten million eyesand finicky tentacles,scoffing at her naïveté,her insistent gropinginside the emptiness of a post-modern world.

She wants to lie down,let their bony beaks have their way,when the Buddha comesand speaks through her,slapping something like the heart sutradown at their feet:

Listen, lest you smug and shirkat the white girl in a black man’s land,her naïve grand narrativesplaced like wedding cakes in this dusty apocalypticbowl of war,lest you smack your lipsand wait for her failure to bloom and gush,remember this:your deconstruction, just more puppetryin an endless play which has no plot,no end to anyone’s meaning, no beginning,no eye dhatu, no ear dhatu,no Post, no Modern [End Page 53] no-anthro, no-polo, no-gistonly this planet, with its sweet and terrible songsthat hover like fog in giant capes of hope and doubt,

Lest you get tempted to excuse yourself,and float high up into the rafters of the void,remember the wisdom of no escape,the straddling of everything and nothing,the way emptiness, sunyata,must be sat on as if it were a bulging nestwhile still speaking of love.Emptiness whipped into a frothlight as clouds, poured into kindness no less fragilethan a child’s meringueswhich themselves crumble into dustat even the slightest touch.

The next morninginside the net, she tears a power bar from its metallic skin,heads toward the ngo’s dilapidated officeshe calls “the crack house,”and creeps out into the limping shantytown,cachectic men sleeping off hungeras the whine of cicadas moans like a siren,and the fluorescent sunbleaches the crap out of the Congo road.

A Nuba boy by the side of the roadlooks up from his dopey malarial puddleas a landmine truck races by. In spite ofthe systematic emptyingof anything real in the streets of her mind,she feels a sharp tenderness pass between them,a wince of sweetness amidst the void that’s emptiness,the way a salmon pulses upstreamdespite the vastness of water,or a large owl beats quietly, across the night, [End Page 54] from limb to limbamidst the endless black that isn’t endless at all.Good Night Sweet Princeand flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Gate, gate, paragate, parsamgate, bodhi svaha!Gone, gone beyond, completely beyond, gone beyond gone! [End Page 55]

Adrie Kusserow

Adrie Kusserow is professor of cultural anthropology at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. Along with the Lost Boys of Sudan, she cofounded Africa eli (Education and Leadership Initiative: Bridging Gender Gaps through Education) and works with Nuba refugee youth in Yei, South Sudan. She has published two books of poetry, Hunting Down the Monk and Refuge...