A Mother in a Refugee Camp


No Madonna and Child could touch

Her tenderness for a son

She soon would have to forget. . . .

The air was heavy with odors of diarrhea,

Of unwashed children with washed-out ribs

And dried-up bottoms waddling in labored steps

Behind blown-empty bellies. Other mothers there

Had long ceased to care, but not this one:

She held a ghost-smile between her teeth,

and in her eyes the memory

Of a motherís pride Ö She had bathed him

And rubbed him down with bare palms.

She took from their bundle of possessions

A broken comb and combed

The rust-colored hair left on his skull

And then, humming in her eyes, began carefully to part it.

In their former life this was perhaps

A little daily act of no consequence

Before his breakfast and school; now she did it

Like putting flowers on a tiny grave.


Chinua Achebe