Habiba Dokubo-Asari

The War is Past (Continuous)

The war came suddenly
and also has not yet arrived.

The war started 200 years ago in a room
thousands of miles away as strange men quartered
lands and bodies between themselves
and called it peace.

The war starts when bands of men rove the streets
with machetes and kerosene looking
for people who do not sound like them.

The war will start with milkweed petals
stained red on the side of the road
and a child at home waiting
for someone who will never return.

From childhood we waited for the war,
though the war was already there.
In pockets of places we never thought about
with burnt bodies and stolen girls.

When we were lazy, our parents
warned us of the war, the windstorm winding
its way towards us. When we were scared

our parents kissed our foreheads
and cooed away thoughts of the war
under our beds. At the same moment,
a mother tucked her children

into a hole in the wall and hoped
they would be unseen
as the war barreled through. Some were.

The woman reapplies lipstick and smiles
in her car rear view mirror, thankful
that the war is over. The war is under
her car and consumes it, spitting out

a charred chassis. The little boy
by the river, mulches the war
between his hands and spreads it
across his cheeks. The former boys

in the creeks drink from the iridescent
water and remember the war,
the war that took their fathers
and orphaned their futures;

the war that adopted them, culled them
sons. They pour libations of black gold into the water
to the war. They raise their rifles in reverence.

In ivory rooms people stuff bags with notes so crisp the sharp edges bleed
them of their humanity in preparation for the war they summoned.

Men sheath the war inside women, and it swells
in their stomachs and spills out of them screaming.

On the radio, the man tells of how the war is an experienced
lover, shucking you from your clothes leaving you
naked in the pale moonlight, holding a hand out
to draw you to the dark.

The war attends lavish parties in silvered halls and waltzes
with people whose laughter is the clangor of tines.
The war tells the best jokes

and has the loudest laugh, laughter that rattles
buildings and bones. The war dresses only in finery,

coats made from the pelts of blasted bodies, tulle skirts
made from the shorn hair of new recruits, neck and ears dripping

with the tears of families – separated, left
behind and fleeing – crystallized into the finest cut
diamonds. The war is sophisticated,
smokes hydrogen cigars and blows
smoke rings the shape of mushrooms.

The war stole girls, fastened them in necklets of napalm
and said it was holy. The war took

children from their families, homed
grenades in their hands
and called it noble. The war left them ghosts,
pinned to their mattresses by machine gun fire

and called it honor. The government
scoured stories of the war

from the tongue of its survivors. The government
makes children put their hands over their hearts

and chant above the cracking of gunfire
‘There is no war. There is no war. There is no war.’

The war came / The war is come / The war comes