O Beautiful – by Robert L. Dean


A man begs us not to step over his family. He wears rags and tears and dust. Behind him a pile of rubble. Perhaps he once lived here. Perhaps also the legs and arms and heads before which he kneels. We do not know. We pass on by.

M10 hospital. We bandage. Stitch. Amputate. Slip, slide on blood, bowels. Don garments of stinking flesh. In a corner, a woman babbles, boy on a litter, eyes gone deaf. Windows shatter. Concrete dances. Barrel bomb. We burrow deeper. Carry wounded. Wounds. Dying. Death. What we carry, we become.

Ahead of us, a torch. Someone whispers: Crawl faster.

Sambisa Forest

When the men speak, it is not Chibok. Maybe Hausa. Arabic. They rip off the abaya, the niqab, the black they make us wear to cover our shame when it suits them, our only concealment, our one refuge, the cold ash of our village, our hearts. They ram into us, thighs banging buttocks. We are 14, 12, 8. Our mounds weep red. Husband, they say, in our language. Before the next one sticks it in.

Helicopters in the monkey-bread trees. Alone in our huts like graves. Blessed Virgin, we whisper: Blessed G.I. Joe. Machine guns. Rockets. Kaboom. Fingers laced, we listen. The hiss of snakes. The swagger of the husbands. What we are left with.

We eat bloody dates. Drink strange-leaved tea. Pledge mubaya’a. Birth their babies. Detonate in crowds of strangers. The husbands say we go to Paradise. And we do.


The Dead Women haunt the maquiladoras. Assemble into printers, TVs, cars. Sigh spreadsheets in Wenatchee, dust up Sioux City back roads, number Days of Our Lives in Brooklyn. They tire of trash dumps, sewers, creosote, cactus. Gardens of red crosses.

Mummies grin on morgue slabs. Sons. Uncles. Brothers. Those we ransom two times, three. Fifteen-year-olds in Escalades and Yankees caps collect. Quinceañera bouquets wither. Carnicerías, discotecas fire the night.

Make-shift altars: tequila, Marlboros, the things She craves. Black candles. Mariachis sing: Santa Muerte, Bony Lady, Lady of the Shadows, Lady of the Holy Death. We shoulder grappling hooks, machetes. Wade the river. Shimmer in the moon’s image. Tired. Poor. Huddled. What we are not: wretched.

Stars whisper. We climb. The eyes of gringo guns.


Robert L. Dean, Jr. majored in Music Composition at Wichita State University. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Illya’s Honey, Red River Review, and I-70 Review. His chapbook Doors was a finalist in the 2014 Dallas Poets Community contest.

Guest Editor Roy J. Beckemeyer is President of the Kansas Authors Club. His poetry book, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, 2014) was a 2015 Kansas Notable Book.


6 thoughts on “O Beautiful – by Robert L. Dean

    • Thank you, Sarah. The real tragedy, I think, is if we ever close ourselves off via walls, bans, etc., from people who look for that torch that is the USA. If we do, then how are we different from Assad, Boko Haram, or the Juarez Cartels? I don’t ever want to see that day come.

    • Thank you. That episode and the ongoing problems in that region get too little attention here in the States, I think.

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