Elegy for Laura


I wrote this poem in high school. I wrote it in memory of my friend Laura. She died at age 15 of hepatitis on July 14, 1978. We were both American kids, living in Koudougou, Burkina Faso. Today for some reason seems like a good day to honor her memory.

O God, I tried to hold your arm when you were dying.
I thought to shake some life out of it.
You were strong then still, stubborn like always—
Pulling your whole body into a knot:
Legs on side, knee-caps touching, feet crossing.
How could I reach into your spine,
Push back your limbs to their more lively form?
You were not clay but woman.
I did not touch your hand,
For fear your fingers lock in mine.
I took your wrist instead.
It was hard for me, you know,
Grabbing at someone who slipped in a hole
Where I did not care to follow.

Remember when you harvested the millet
With that short-handled hoe?
Everyone said that no white girl worked harder.
Remember the summer you taught me to swim?
The dogs we played with?
The men your father refused your hand?

You were fighting, Laura.
As though you’d break your arm to free it of my grip.
I’d given up sooner.
You were a dark colt.

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