Poem 21 ± World AIDS Day 2017

Casey Charles
Salt Brothers on the Coast of East Africa

The sea comes sideways to Saadani, northeast from India.
All day she rakes grains from red pools into white mounds.
The men shoulder sacks down the levy, salt ready for Dar.

Sometimes three bags her brothers stacked on their backs.
Sinews spent. Midnights they rolled over in bunks, mating.
Until their tongues turned white, lungs filled with fluid.

In the dorm built by the Delhi company, she cannot breathe.
Instead she treads the shore at sundown, bucking headwinds,
Her cheeks bleached by grief and white caps,

streaks dried to a film across her wasted face.
Her brothers buried under the shallows, in silt,
under muddied waters that keep the fish away,

keep the ache alive in her stomach,
waves breaking over and over in rows.
This sea never quiet in her old slave town.

Its loud hush a curse, a gift.
Against its din, she can weep
unheard. She can scream,

“Why has this sickness come to us?”
Her neck bent to broken shells, burned by the sun,
foreman who watches her every move.

She hates these plastic bags, these empty bottles.
This useless stuff. Her sores. Their wave from the sandbar.
White noise of laughing brothers.


logoCasey Charles is the author of The Sharon Kowalski Case: Lesbian and Gay Rights on Trial (University Press of Kansas, 2003) and a collection of essays, Critical Queer Studies: Law, Film, and Fiction in Contemporary America (Routledge, 2012). He is also the author of the poetry chapbooks Controlled Burn (Pudding House, 2007) and Blood Work (Seven Kitchens Press, 2012), as well as the novel The Trials of Christopher Mann (Regal Crest, 2013). His novel The Monkey Cages and Zicatela, a poetry collection, are forthcoming in 2018. Charles is an English professor at the University of Montana in Missoula.

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