A sleepy country parish,
a half ruined church.
We waited an hour
in sleepiness and sunshine
till the caretaker showed up on his bicycle,
a pleasant faced, grey haired man.

The first room we saw
was standard by now:
a shelf of skulls,
a shelf of bones and clothes,
bouquets of flowers long dead,
a plastic Christ propped up between two skulls.

We were veterans of Rwanda’s memorials,
well used to all that by now.
But the church…
In the church they lay where they fell…

A baby blue baby’s sandal
still cradling your baby bones.
I gasp
and the smell of terror enters my bones.

All around lie skeletons, hair still clinging,
black and brittle,
to dismembered skulls.
No flesh, no warm brown skin.
The skulls of babies disintegrate first,
delicate even in death.
The bones of adults last longer,
and the stench of the dead lasts years.
The stench of the rage of the living
(the pleasant faced, grey haired man)
who insisted so angrily to us
(we who were there to remember)
that this time his people would not be forgotten,
would not be buried in earth.

I dreamt that I buried you,
that I made you a shrine with candles and flowers,
not only his fierce broken anger,
but also a lullaby, roses whisper good night,
to ease your terror and mine.

There were people in Rwanda
who were not afraid: Gourevitch
tells of a man
who met the Interahamwe
three times
and who walked away unharmed
three times
because he was not afraid.

And who were they,
the Interahamwe?
My brothers, my sisters, my self.
Any one of us
who has ever chosen
the pain of another over our own pain.
Any one of us
who has ever chosen
to silence, belittle, destroy
the tribe, the country, the delicate child,
whatever reminds us
(who knows how)
of what we cannot bear to touch:
our own unbearable grief
for the loss of unbearable joy.