William Kelley Woolfitt


Bamako, Mali

Hear him loosen his throat and murmur
as the only bus grinds brakes and he sees
your city for the first time. Always there,
the foreboding, the advisories an endless chain.
Missionaries pelted by wild boys. Stolen wallets.
Beleaguered nuns. But he came to learn silence,
to pray the fear away. So he lives from his backpack,
rents a room by the week. So he stays.

Your tallest building, the mud-walled mosque,
the color of everything here: couscous, parched sky,
soft camel hair. He tries to climb the outer stairs,
hoping for a rooftop glimpse of copper sunset,
distant sea. The guard blocks him: no more
foreigners in the holy place. There have been incidents:
lovers from Canada necking in the foyer last spring.
Then the mosque rented for a model shoot
after rainy season, to fund the yearly repairs.
Sequined sarongs, the scooped out treasures
of breast and thigh.

He turns his head, ducks and goes. Your women
tote jugs, your children skip pebbles in the dust.
May you lean your shriveled ears toward him,
may his words in a quiet place be aloe and myrrh.

William Kelley Woolfitt teaches writing at Penn State and works as a backpacking guide at a summer camp in New Hampshire. He has hiked a thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail . His poems and short stories have been published or are forthcoming in Spoon River Poetry Review, Shenandoah, Poetry International, North Dakota Quarterly, Weber Studies, Sycamore Review, The Cincinnati Review, and Nimrod, among others. "Earth Tones" was originally published in Sow’s Ear Poetry Review.

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