Arao Ameny is a poet and writer from Lira, Lango region, Uganda. She spent her early childhood in Uganda and grew up in the United States. She is interested in writing about immigrants, diaspora, migration, rootlessness, displacement, transition, belonging, identity, and the search for home. She has a pair of writing degrees, an MFA in Creative Writing in Fiction from University of Baltimore and an MA in Journalism from Indiana University. She has a BA in Political Science from University of Indianapolis. Her first published poem, “Home is a Woman,” appeared in The Southern Review in 2020 and won The James Olney Award. She is an alumna of Rari Poetry Workshop, Tin House Workshop, winner of the 2021 Brooklyn Poetry Fellowship, 2021 HUES Scholar from HUES Foundation, and fellow at Women’s National Book Association’s Authentic Voices program. Find her on Twitter at @araoameny or see books she reads at @africanwriter.
In my father’s mind, my mother’s passport sits frozen in time waiting for her to board a flight to Germany she never intended to take. My passport and her passport and my brother’s passport and my sister’s passport, sit stuck in 20-year bubble of memory in my father’s mind. We were supposed to join him and be a family but my mother didn’t want to go to another country, learn another language because six African languages and English was enough. Her throat already carried too much and what my father was asking cost more than the dowry of cows he paid her family, she said. How many more languages does he expect me to carry in my mouth, she told me one Sunday evening drinking a cup of sugarcane juice. An American divorce is never enough, she said. I’ll scrub toilets and clean floors to pay back the dowry, she cried into another glass of red wine. I’ll return your father’s cows. Back home, we would have belonged to my father’s family but here in America, I didn’t know where belonged after the divorce. America is where he told her they would raise a family, until he changed his mind and didn’t tell her because Ugandan men don’t ask Ugandan women how they feel about crossing continents and seas and baggage claim and security at airports and where to live. They just lead and we follow, she said—but not that Sunday evening. She poured a third glass of red wine instead. The dowry he paid isn’t enough for me to follow, she said talking into a glass of red wine and I knew that was the last time I’d see my mother and father and brother and sister sitting at the same table again. I knew then, blowing bubbles with sugarless bubblegum, while waiting that it would be the last day I saw my father.
My ancestors meet in the meat of my ankles.
They gather at my rounded hips and under the fat clinging from arms like shirts on a clothesline.
My ancestors rest in the dark circles under caves of my eyes.
Every gray hair sprouting is a grandmother announcing herself.
what I miss
there’s a tomato-red sign that says “Welcome to Luwerro”
a lorry swollen with green bananas tips over
an old woman cooks outside on an open orange fire
the boda boda weaves through traffic
a woman split in half, bends over to count her tomatoes to sell at the market
lush green banana leaves pricking long stretches of road
palm trees effortlessly sprout from the red soil
another white street sign for cows crossing
school-age girls carry jerry cans on their heads
school children with blue and white uniforms walk through sunflower fields
women sell mangoes on the roadside near Karuma
soil the color of cooper
cows with pointy horns cross the road at sunset
dried fish swing on hooks in an open market
another oil-licked pot
another hand drops squares of dough into oil and pulls out brown mandazi
a woman driving a motorcycle with a baby strapped to her back
another warm rain
a red sign that says “Welcome to Lira”