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The Buddha in South Sudan

From: Prairie Schooner
Volume 87, Number 4, Winter 2013
pp. 52-55 | 10.1353/psg.2013.0167

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Yei, South Sudan

O, Sariputra
    Form is Empty, Emptiness is Form

Tucked inside the mosquito net’s
gauzy bubble, taut white fabric
rounded over her cot like a bridal dome,
she turns out her headlamp
so they can’t see her silhouette.

Outside, soldiers drink hard at the bar,
a six-foot waitress shuffles by in flip-flops
shooing away flies scurrying
in and out of the mouths
of bottles of Blue Nile.

From her room, she can hear Amin,
all fire and brimstone from the throne
of 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 veins
he still looks stunned, hijacked with adrenalin
busted red capillaries.

It starts to thunder,
already whole chunks of road
gape open, another well-meaning aid project will
swell, loosen,
come apart at the seams.
She thinks of Taban, their tiny night guard
who slept in their closet with the rats
amidst the frayed electrical cords,
leaky roof, bow and arrow at the ready,
the one who robbed them
and now sits in a dank Yei prison.

She thinks of her university back home, the academics
pecking rabidly at their laptops
with their ten million eyes
and finicky tentacles,
scoffing at her naïveté,
her insistent groping
inside the emptiness of a post-modern world.

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

Listen, lest you smug and shirk
at the white girl in a black man’s land,
her naïve grand narratives
placed like wedding cakes in this dusty apocalyptic
bowl of war,
lest you smack your lips
and wait for her failure to bloom and gush,
remember this:
your deconstruction, just more puppetry
in 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
no-anthro, no-polo, no-gist
only this planet, with its sweet and terrible songs
that 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 nest
while still speaking of love.
Emptiness whipped into a froth
light as clouds, poured into kindness no less fragile
than a child’s meringues
which themselves crumble into dust
at even the slightest touch.

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

A Nuba boy by the side of the road
looks up from his dopey malarial puddle
as a landmine truck races by. In spite of
the systematic emptying
of 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 upstream
despite the vastness of water,
or a large owl beats quietly, across the night,
from limb to limb
amidst the endless black that isn’t endless at all.
Good Night Sweet Prince
and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Gate, gate, paragate, parsamgate, bodhi svaha!
Gone, gone beyond, completely beyond, gone beyond gone!

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 (BOA Editions).

Copyright © 2013 University of Nebraska Press
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