The Ballad of Madness: How Dey Kill Am?
(Excerpted from a soon to be published book of poetry,
“We Will Learn War No More”, a Poetical Tale of the Liberian Civil War)
Keep still while I relate to you,
this tale that must be told.
Of its occurrence, I was an unwilling
witness, yet its voice moves, even
compels me to speak.
So, keep still, while I tell you
what must be told.
We were witnesses, all four of us,
in our hasty flight from death.
We were witnesses, our tired little band,
with our loads upon our heads.
Fear sits unreasonably on my shoulders
as I recall this tale. But I must tell you.
Walking, our hearts throbbing loudly,
we saw her. Arms akimbo,
afro scattered, a traveling bag
at her feet.
She felt our eyes and turned quickly.
She looked beyond us, through us.
We had stumbled upon her in
the midst of something; she must
have been at it for a while.
She stood contemplating; her head
lifted haughtily, her eyes glazed.
Her feet suddenly began to tap,
her head and shoulders moving in
tandem, then she laughed. “Hey”, she
shrieked, assuming a defiant stance,
“how they kill am”?
Her song joined the dance, “hey, hey
hey,” she sang, demanding, “how they
kill am, how dey kill am, how dey kill am?”
Our eyes followed her jerky movements,
from the charred house to something
at the bottom of her feet. She swayed
slightly, “hey, hey, hey, who kill am?”
Gleaming white skulls grinned at us,
fiendishly. We huddled together,
but our eyes obeyed themselves.
Her accent betrayed her. A friend,
relative? We would never know.
She rushed forward, like Grebo
warriors in a war dance. Her arms
stretched forth, her eyes seeing
things invisible to us, she demanded
again, “hey, how they kill am, how they
kill am, how they kill am?”
We stared at her, unwilling spectators.
Our eyes traveled, from woman to
house, to luggage to skulls and back to
woman. We offered no words. We
knew neither who had killed them or
why. We did not have words.
I felt my father’s hands,
nudging me forward. We crept
“Hey”, she screamed, halting
us. We stood, terrified. Her
voice broke and she asked
softly, “who kill am, who
kill am, who kill am”?
We stood immobilized. Our
ears insisted on listening to
her unnerving chant,
that screaming anguish, our
eyes would not be denied
that wild dance. My father’s
words came quietly,
We sprinted, not knowing
where to go. But, my
heart was broken and I
snuck a look. There she
was, inquiring from the trees,
“how dey kill am, hey, hey, hey,
who kill am, who kill am?”
Every so often, in the midst of a
happy time, when there is laughter
and smiling faces, warm hearts
and love, I see her face, that strange,
surprised expression, and I hear her
stringent voice, demanding to know,
“how they kill am”?
“How they kill am”? – Sierra Leone colloquial for “How did they kill them”?
Liberian Mob Justice
You’ve seen those billboards all around town,
the ones that say report crimes
to the police, don’t take the law in your
own hands? You’ve seen those ones?
Well, they are not working.
The mob dispenses justice these days
like lightning. They’ve become
a regular fast-track court, no backlog of
You run somebody over? You had better run
fast. Those self-appointed sheriffs will burn
you and your vehicle straight to kingdom come.
Now, did you shoot somebody like that
police guy did? You are sorry? Well, too late.
They’ll cremate you, Naija* style.
The mob even has criminals running to the police.
You get caught pick pocketing, hightail it to
the nearest police depot,
else you be in a box with no space.
I heard plunderers of state coffers
might have a worse fate.
Then, we have these dirty fifty-year olds,
pushing their digits in the vaginas of lil’ two
and three year olds. Ha, the law’s strong
but the mobs don’t wait for that.
So, the big shots come on the air and say,
“Liberians, stop mob violence, we are a
civilized nation”. Outwardly, they are
properly incensed. Mob justice?
What is Liberia coming to?
But inside, they are gleeful. Rape my
three-year old? I would have fed his
depraved penis to the dogs! What was that
S.O.B. thinking anyway?
*Naija – slang for “Nigeria”.
In the privacy of my mind
I give vent to rage, lies,
envy, and vices of every kind.
Taboos are enjoyed.
No one sees, no one knows.
I am safe inside, filled with empty joy.
My fantasies I fulfill
in the solitude of myself.
I am another, this is what I will.
Who knows that behind this beautiful face
murder sometimes lies in wait,
an insane desire to exterminate?
There is no way you can tell
just by looking at this gentle female
that she dreams of being wonderfully cruel.
Or, how could you ever discern
that yonder jolly gentleman
relishes thoughts of unleashing bloody mayhem?
Could you find a clear line of correlation,
between an innocent visage
and an insidious motive for abduction?
Even at your most lucid moment,
could you ever imagine
that I, I am capable of inflicting gruesome torment?
My mind is a wall
that shields me splendidly
and when you think you know me well, it turns out
you don’t know me at all.
Let me be candid with you here
you want it and so don’t you dare
pretend as if you are not interested.
You avert your face
when I reach for my billfold
but peep to see if I am pulling out Tolberts* or Does**.
You act overly busy
while I am checking the bills
all the while counting on my generosity.
I hand over the cash,
you motion for me to drop it fast
on your polished desktop.
You pocket it just as fast, I am sure,
as soon as I close your office door,
trusting that no one would ever know.
So you see, there is really no need
for all this pseudo piety,
when we both know that you are just as crooked as me.
*Tolberts – allusion to a 20 Liberian Dollar note that bears the picture
of a former Liberian President, William R. Tolbert
**Does – allusion to a 50 Liberian Dollar note that bears the picture
of a former Liberian President, Samuel K. Doe