Writings / Poetry

what night

Juliane Okot Bitek

what burning proof
what riding in the wind
howling in the throats of hungry children, hanging strings of broken guitars
what burning proof of light

what incidence
what music
what leafy branches, now stark, naked, dry, whitened bark
what memories of life
what shadows from the backs of women
bending over howling children with churning acid, burning insides, tight, round, hollow bellies
what leaking, what night
burning with proof?

what dry knuckles
what country, what crescent moon
what worries about what neck-laced bullets, shards, casings, strips of cloth, strips of stories, stories of people, people of a desert glowing with memories of leafy branches and the burning proof of night

what meaning

what conclusions of our women raped with knives, hands, broken bottles, bayonets, sticks
shimmering rain stones bouncing,  wet shop window panes of winter countries glistening, diamonds, where we long for love in the shiny rings, love, shiny ruby, topaz blue, dangling from earlobes, glinting from the newest cell phones, coltane

what meaning in the rape of our women long confounded by a polish man on the search for darkness of the heart
what howling by the river
red bottomed monkeys darting off the road, scampering away from the path of jeeps with United Nations, Red Cross, FOA, We Care, We Care, We Care,
we don’t.

what need for the children staring back at the screen, for pennies a day, only pennies a day
less than the price of a grande cup of coffee, a latte, a half sweet, half decaf, no foam, skim milk, vanilla, double shot of espresso
less than the price of a daily paper
what lies.

I Wish It Were Night

I wish it were night
Because what I need to tell you needs the blackness of night.

It needs dawn curtains, Bob melody, warm blankets, sleeping children dreaming, sucking at their mouths; it needs your dark skin

What I need to tell you
Needs the night
Your hands cupping my shoulder, the heat in your eyes
This night

This night I need to talk to you

This night needs me, needs you, needs black
No streetlights – black
No moon – black
No black thoughts of black people here there every place black is black
Black is black
Black is black is black is me is you

What I need to say needs you black night, black skirt on stained carpet, black stockings, black boots, bra, bangles in a gold heap jangling the day away now quiet

What I need to say needs night with thunder that tremors, rain in sheets, lightning that brightens the sky for a second -- a truth that you are more than the sum of all the parts that make me feel good: you are black soul

What I need to say needs no TV, no shadowing bombs in Beirut boasting of suicide bombs; bragging shots, competitions of displaced people inside outside borders citizen refugees unwanted migrants vagrants on the west side of a blue green planet with echoes of canned laughter


No fingers to my lips, love.

What I need to tell you, what I need to tell you, what I need to tell you…


Nights of white blinding rage
Possessed me for years

Raw skin, nerves
Red-toothed laughter
Babies, snakes
Fists raining
I missed you

If I had known
You were calculating my divinity
I might have stood still
And waited


My words are scars that remind me of the sharp pain of the moments that my body was broken into, but retain just enough memory, so I don’t forget.
Words run through my mind, tumble out of my mouth
create whirlwinds of perplexed faces that sit with you around the wangoo, waiting for the telling at the firepit.
You don’t have to be shot to know that the force of the bullet will pick you up and throw you away. It will numb you and then waken you to the instant of intense burning arising from the trajectory where metal fragments break into joyous pieces of death swimming about inside your blood stream. 

Here, take these words.  Catch the whirlwind in your palm. Rest a bit with me. 
In the afternoon, we can count the lines in fallen tree trunks scattered about the landscape. 
In the afternoon, we shall sit by the river, looking for river ghosts that dart across the banks.
In the evening, you can sit by me and hold me up as I let the torrents out. 

These stories must be told, they must be told, they must be told, they must be told.
They are only scars after all, not like open flesh in the hot sun, not like broken blisters against rubber boots, bone through skin, a persistent and itchy bald spot on the top of your head after the last idea you could use as otac to balance the jerry can on your head disintegrated into nothing.
My words are the skeletal remains of abii grass, still standing after the burning, still waving with the afternoon breeze; waiting, waiting for you to touch it so it can crumble into wisps of ash in your palm and take you back with the distinct smell of the smoke from the fires of the last dry season.

About The Author


Juliane Okot Bitek is the daughter of a poet father and a story-teller mother.  She was born to exiled parents in Kenya, came of age in Uganda and now lives in Canada.  Juliane’s work has won writing awards in Canada, the United States and Europe.  She is an essayist, free-lance writer, and poet.  Her work has been anthologized and published widely in literary magazines, on-line and in print.  Juliane has been an invited poet at the International Poetry Festivals of Medellin, Colombia (2008) and Granada, Nicaragua (2009).  She continues to write and speak about issues of home, homeland and diaspora. Juliane graduated from the University of British Columbia (M.A English, 2009) and is currently writing a biography and completing her second collection of poetry.  The first one, Words in Black Cinnamon (Delina Press) was published in 1998. She lives with her family in Vancouver but still dreams of a place to call home.

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Fiction Review

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Non-Fiction Review

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Featured Artist

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