No poem about Malawi

I have not written a single poem
about Malawi.
It’s been more than a year
since I journeyed there
on a mission
to help girls stay in school.

It makes no sense.

The whole country is a sonnet
of wandering goats and homemade bricks.

It’s a free verse of brilliant chitenjes wrapped
around dark-skinned women’s waists.

It’s a haiku:

barefoot smiling kids
with filthy clothes, upstretched arms,
asking to be held

It’s ballads
alighting on schoolgirls’ faces
as I offer them
washable menstrual pads.
They sing:

“Now we don’t have to miss a class
or make do with cloth scraps.
Now we can dance, no matter when.
We are back on the map.”

See? It’s all a poem.

But what rings in my mind
like an overused rhyme
is the memory of
orphans using dirty hands
to scoop gray gruel
from a communal bowl,
child brides
with children strapped
to their backs,
listless men,
run-down shacks,
the lack of running water,
lack of healthcare,
lack of a way out.

I want to write
something soaked
in hope,
but can’t see past
a dried up well,
the miles walked
to quench thirst,
while my glass
is always full.

That’s why
I haven’t written a poem
about Malawi.

About the author: Kelly de la Rocha is a poet, journalist, editor and volunteer raised in upstate New York and living in Farmington, Connecticut. Now that her kids are grown and life has calmed down a little, she’s giving her poetry the attention it deserves. Her poems have been featured in Syracuse Cultural Workers’ Women Artists Datebook, the anthology Poems from 84th Street, Chronogram, Four and Twenty‘s online journal, Upstream, and Folded Word Press’ e-publication unFold.

“No Poem for Malawi” was inspired by Kelly’s work with the MoonCatcher Project, which provides washable, reusable menstrual pads and education to girls in Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Liberia, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Honduras, Haiti and many other countries.