Not Yet

By Juliane Okot Bitek

Are you dead yet?
We’re writing letters to our future selves
wanting to know if we can outlive men with beautiful hands.

Are you dead yet?
It’s been months, years since I heard the voice of my husband
felt his beautiful hands.

Are you dead yet?
A memory: thirty years ago, more, a young woman on the overnight bus to Nairobi.
A man with beautiful hands sits beside her.
His face is moulded by God and he is travelling with a baby.
He does not acknowledge her.
She closes her eyes to catch some sleep as the bus rambles over the Great Rift Valley.
His hand snakes over her body, making slow sensual moves along her arm and writing on her palm. The baby sleeps.
The young woman is confused, keeps her eyes closed.
No one else can, or will see anything.

Are you dead yet?
Another memory: thirty five years ago, more. Men in soldier uniforms unfurl their fingers from the guns they carry so they can pinch the hard seed breasts of young girls on the way to the market in Kampala.
Or smack their bottoms when they walk past.
In the heady days after liberation, after the government of Idi Amin had fallen, men in soldier uniforms were heroes, gods, killers.
Why would you let them touch you anyway?
Why would you?
Shrill voices of aunts and mothers keep the next encounter and the next one and the next one and the next one quiet.
No one cares or wants to hear us.

Are you dead yet?
We’re writing letters to our future selves
wanting to know if we can outlive men with beautiful hands.

Are you dead yet?
Me and my husband and his beautiful hands have a broken psychic connection.
He can no longer hear me.
Are you dead yet?
My skin no longer cares for the aesthetics of hands.

Are you dead yet?
A memory.
A few months ago, scant a year, I am relative to men in soldier uniforms and singers of love songs.
I hold a gun to my own head.
I sing myself a lullaby.
Are you dead yet?
The bullet shoots in both directions—or who else will see this beauty?

Same hands that caress this skin, same hands at my throat until my eyes bulge out, same husband of the beautiful hands.
Please, I whisper, please.
My voice is trapped in the tight of his right hand.
My body trapped by his against the wall, two feet from the door in Vancouver.
No one saw or heard anything.
No one ever does.

Juliane Okot Bitek writes poetry in Vancouver. She is the author of 100 Days (University of Alberta Press). Photo credit: Colleen Butler.

This poem is published as part of the No Comment project.

More Writing from the No Comment Project

No Comment by Alessandra Naccarato
Erase and Rewind by Meghan Bell
White house, where some family lived upstairs by Chelene Knight
Loyalty and Violence by Ruth Daniell
Burning Bridges by Joelle Barron
Penknife by Ellie Sawatzky
for play by Kayla Czaga
back, cover by Elaine Corden
Sex Work Solidarity as Healing by Amber Dawn
I Was Once That Girl by Jen Sookfong Lee
On Receiving Bad News by Mallory Tater
The Disappearing Woman by Leah Horlick
Boys Will Be Boys by Dina Del Bucchia
Nicomekl River by Claire Matthews
Knowing Better by Anonymous
Monster by Mikiko Galpin
Reframing the Montréal Massacre by Maureen Bradley
Testimony, Part X by Anonymous
Broken Heart Emoji, Crystal Ball Emoji, Stars Emoji by Kyla Jamieson
Bits by Carleigh Baker
Metamorphosis 6: 401-674: A Paraphrase in Still Pictures by Annick MacAskill
black pearls by Jónína Kirton
Not Yet by Juliane Okot Bitek
Sei Turni (6 spells for #CanLit) by Amber Dawn

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