10 years to yes

Juliane Okot Bitek

this is my third war*

may 2009
if you can’t see me does it mean I don’t exist yes if you see me but you don’t see what makes me me does it mean you don’t see me yes if you cannot see that the thing that makes me me hurts burns ashes all over if you cannot see me shall I bother to stay alive no

january 2019
are you empire she wants to know a whirlwind above her head I hear are you empire a coffee grinder between us & I think she wants to know if I want room for cream in my coffee yes please I answer are you empire she asks a third time brow creased a paper cup posed in her hand & I thirsty for a spit of glory say yes why not yes & yes I am empire yes I am empire yes & yes & yes I am yes yes yes empire I am yes to your question I am the last of your dreams I am dirt I am star I am your world crowned I am nothing you could ever know I am everything that can be I am empire yes yes yes room please   


*in an interview for “The Art of Fiction” (no.143) in The Paris Review, Susan Sontag identifies herself as a writer concerned with war. She names Vietnam and the Yom Kippur (1973) as the wars she wrote about in Trip to Hanoi and Promised Lands. Bosnia, she says, was her third war. My war extends Hamlet’s internal struggle—“to be or not to be”—in a world of constant misrecognition & production of capital.  

Author Statement: 

“10 Years to Yes” is a two-part poem that traces the journey towards reconciliation within the self. A decade ago, I was desperately trying to articulate the poisoning effect of racism and misogyny, which I have come to know as misogynoir, in the life and experience of a Black woman in this part of the world. Early this year, a gift arrived in the form of the question: are you empire? I didn't know what to do with this phrase that seemingly came from nowhere and would not leave. It was only at coffee with my friend Jónína that I realized that it was part of a poem. Another conversation with her and I realized that this was the second part of an articulation that started a decade ago. I'm grateful to Jónína for her careful eye and generous heart. 

Juliane Okot Bitek is a poet and a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia, in Canada. Her 100 Days (University of Alberta, 2016) was nominated for several writing prizes including the 2017 BC Book Prize, the Pat Lowther Award, the 2017 Alberta Book Awards, and the 2017 Canadian Authors Award for Poetry. It won the 2017 IndieFab Book of the Year Award for poetry and the 2017 Glenna Lushei Prize for African Poetry. Juliane’s poem “Migration: Salt Stories” (published in Room 40.3) was shortlisted for the 2018 National Magazine Awards for Poetry in Canada. Her poem “Gauntlet” was longlisted for the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize. Juliane is also the author of Sublime: Lost Words (The Elephants, 2018).

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