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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

CLEANSING SEX

by Linda Simone
For Fanny Mbewe

Mchinji, Malawi - In the hours after James Mbewe was laid to rest three years ago, in an unmarked grave not far from here, his 23-year-old wife, Fanny, neither mourned him nor accepted visits from sympathizers. Instead, she hid in his sister's hut, hoping that the rest of her in-laws would not find her.
                  But they hunted her down, she said, and insisted that if she refused to exorcise her dead husband's spirit, she would be blamed every time a villager died.
-- Sharon LaFraniere, New York Times, May 10, 2005


This is for you, Fanny, and all our sisters
whose spirits are wiped away
by tradition,
another patriarchy where women are pawns.
From his unmarked grave, even James approves
as they drag you from your sister's Malawi hut
for the final ritual in your husband's death: forced sex
with James' cousin. This they say will save the people of your village
from insanity, disease,
save you.
How did you feel, still nursing the wounds of widowhood,
to be submitted to this savagery you must
wear like bondage?
How would you have felt if you did not agree
and your countrymen dropped like flies?
Afterward, you washed your most private places, desperate
to ward off AIDS,
hoping to save your children from becoming orphans.
Today you look at me
from a front-page photo, 26 years old now, traditional garb, arms crossed,
feet firmly planted in dirt.
Now you are news
because a virus ravages your continent
not because your slavery is accepted as custom.
What are you asking me to do?


Linda Simone's poems have appeared in Midnight Mind, Westview and Potomac Review, and in anthologies including en(compass) and Essential Love. She was former poetry editor and managing editor for Inkwell, the literary journal of Manhattanville College and now serves as faculty advisor. Moon, A Poem, her first book for children, was published in 2002.