Darning the Space of Our Memory: From Burkina to America to Benin
Nonfiction by Suzanne Ondrus
The smell of burning rotten dog coats my hair, fills my lungs. He enters our house in Allada, Benin with the empty gasoline can, having taken care of the large abandoned carcass behind our house that has been festering there for the past week. Tomorrow we’ll be able to breathe. * I’m pretty good at pulling together threads that have pulled apart. It’s called mending or darning. It’s taking what’s damaged and making it new, making it livable. * We talk on the phone eight years later. I share with him Bon Jovi’s “You Want to Make a Memory.” We listen together to stop a piece of time—the ocean between us, calm. * I used to imagine the son we’d have sitting in a car seat while I drove. He’d certainly have had his wide flared nose, big smile, and large eyes.
* We do dirty work for those we love. Love visible through action. *
Someday I will pass him on a street in Burkina, him walking with his family. We will stop to look at each other. We won’t say anything. A plane will fly low over our heads, and I will look up and smile. * When he heard Bon Jovi’s guitar solo, he jumped up into a wide stance and bent over an invisible guitar, plucking those notes passionately, transformed into a man with power. He smiled. Just like how he smiled when he asked if I wanted to drive his car, proud of his car—a marker of his stature above motorcycle riders, bicycle riders, and pedestrians. * We were separated from each other. Somewhere there was a phone. I looked in my bag, tried to pull it up from the depths of my purse, but nothing. * When getting into my car, I used to turn back to look in the back seat. I imagined him there happily babbling in his car seat, the incarnation of our love. * Hadn’t seen him in eight years. The reunion. Waiting in the air conditioned hotel room for him to arrive. The embrace. The French expression of ‘that makes two days’ to say ‘been too long'—four words to replace the ache of those eight years. My butt, thighs, and breasts brimming against the long two piece fitted and starched Ugandan dress. My outfit’s pink, yellow, and blue presenting my presence as the present. The glow in the courtyard at dusk, the guards’ eyes like lightening bugs monitoring us as he smiles, stands back, and watches me turn around. * A rainbow of our used condoms scattered on the path behind our house where we threw our bagged house trash. Ashamed of our public exposure, he dug them quickly down into the earth with his bare hands.
* I smiled, said yes. Five minutes driving in the red dirt. Memories of wanting to make memories. This drive is the foundation for my later driving in Africa through the smell of charcoal fires and locally grown chicken roasting called bicycle chicken.
* I can make fabric where there was a hole. I can pull together what has drifted apart. I try to do this with broken relationships—bring my feelings outwardly, extended as if they could repair and restore, could make shine what became dull, like an antique table scratched and rain trodden, stripped, stained, and polished anew with its righted position in the house. * He told me he saw them. Our boy child first, then our girl child. They were dancing under the mango tree by our future hotel. * I cannot find or remember where he had me drive. I know it was so close to where I later lived. I can still remember crossing a large road, hesitating to give it gas. * I dreamed that he was in the train station, trying to find me. Spiders, giant ones were descending from the ceiling. I shrunk back. The spiders were getting closer. The people hurried. We were moving towards the platform, going up the stairs through a throng of people. I knew we were in the same direction. I had faith we’d find each other. The heart in the sea. A brilliant glimmer pulling me forward. * He loved Bon Jovi. Wanted hard rockers, wanted that electric guitar sound that cries beyond the moon. Wanted what wasn’t in Burkina. * In the dream I am united with him. We are due to the same destination. The clock propels us to the train. Five minutes. Five minutes. The stomping. The rush. The push to get on. United though we are invisible. A metronome goes and the wheels turn my future to glass. * Now he is tucked tight into my atoms and our dreamed children are in the stars, our unrealized marriage ignites after death. Heaven—the space of our memory of our life together in Allada, Benin. *
Suzanne Ondrus Suzanne Ondrus' first book, Passion Seeds, won the 2013 Vernice Quebodeaux Prize. She was the 2013 Reed Magazine Markham Poetry Prize winner, a 2017 featured UNESCO World Book Capital poet in Guinea, Conakry, and a 2018-2020 Fulbright Scholar to Burkina Faso. Her work delves into love, desire, different cultures, history, racism, body image, African fashion, and women’s sexuality. Her forthcoming poetry book, Death of an Unvirtuous Woman (Finishing Line Press) examines domestic violence and homicide in an1881 Ohio German immigrant couple from Wood County. Hear her read on her YouTube channel Suzanne Ondrus and find her updates on suzanneondrus.com.