From a Sick Girl in Burkina Faso

From a Sick Girl in Burkina Faso

—near the Mali border, 1999

Ce n’est pas bon—It’s not good—
these are the words spoken in kindness,
the name of my sickness left unspoken
so my whole family, even Uncle Solo,
won’t have to leave this village,
these mango trees, this Falani milk.
Because of me, because I am sick.
This is why the functionaires only sigh,
Ce n’est pas bon, when I deep cough
Saturdays at the Infirmerie.

Bintou lies with me most days
in certain shades of market stalls,
blue-smoke mo-peds clattering past
crones gossiping and haggling.
The Pharmacien gives Bintou Tylenol
when her malaria sweats increase.
But Bintou can have good weeks,
and even Jenetta with her long worm
getting rolled from her arm every day,
yes, Jenetta will get better they say.
For me there is but to wait.

We practiced as giggling girls,
tearing the condom wrap just so,
fitting it over a banana, making jokes
so the man would laugh, say,
“Okay, I will wear this thing.”
Our skit won first prize in Orodora
where we went on the new road,
the same road the young man came down
the very next year in his so big truck.
He stopped here for lunch all spring, summer.
His salutations were proper, Senefou.
He stood out from the villageois.
Auntie warned me. She said he was pas bon
same as she had said the road was.

Regarding this poem, Fike says:
“I spent a few months in my daughter’s Peace Corps village in West Africa in 1999, and this poem came out of that time. The word ‘AIDS’ was not to be spoken as it was a stigma that would attach itself to the sick person’s family even after their death, thus Ce n’est pas bon became a sort of code around the clinic where French was mostly spoken, mixed with Bambura, a West African market language.”

Rupert Fike’s collection Lotus Buffet was published in 2011 by Brick Road Poetry Press. Two of its poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and he has been nominated as Georgia Author of the Year 2011 in poetry. His Voices from The Farm, accounts of life on a spiritual community in the 1970s, is now available in paperback.