In Africa, the grass follows the rain,
the cows follow the grass, and
the people follow the cows.
At the border, a Sudanese guard
eyes the couple approaching.
The man wears a plain white robe
with a black vest trimmed in gray ribbon,
his hand clasped around a doubled whip
with which he herds his cows.
His wife is wrapped in shimmering silk
of indigo edged with vermilion, gold threads
striping the hem and meandering across
the fabric. Her sandals, too, wink with
golden beads under the dust.
The guard asks for their names and
the man replies, "I am Abit Bauer,
and this is my wife Lamya."
"We'll see your wings," the guard says,
and Abit turns to show him.
He has the wide white wings and
short white tail of a cattle egret.
Slowly Lamya unwinds the layers
of billowing silk to reveal
the black suede wings
of a badger bat, dotted
here and there with white.
The guard cries out in disgust,
backing away. "You cannot cross!"
he says. "We do not want your kind here."
"I am not a bat," Lamya says,
lifting the gold and vermilion hem
of her skirt. "Look and see."
There at her ankles flutter the ashen wings
of a blue-naped mousebird.
"Impossible," says the guard,
but the wings remain, and
when Lamya steps forward
he lets her pass, too afraid
to raise further protest.
"Be kind to my treasure,"
her husband advises, as he
follows her with their cows.
"But how can this be?"
the guard sputters behind them,
waving his thick arms.
"We do not know," Adit says,
and it is true as far as it goes.
They wonder, though, if this is another
legacy from their German ancestors,
like his surname and her faltering grasp
of that European language, something
handed down from men who came to Africa
for a long-ago war and never left.
She is not evil like the fledermäuse,
but her husband would not call her
a saint either, does not think she is
anything like the Christian cardinal man
whom they once saw in the village square.
Lamya is black-and-white like the badger bat,
dusty gray like the mousebird.
She is of Africa, and has done
what she must to survive.
Perhaps that is all that
her four wings have to say.
* * *
See the Sudanese clothes described in this poem.
Cattle Egrets are birds that follow herd animals.
Badger Bats are a recently discovered species in South Sudan.
The Blue-naped Mousebird is a social bird that lives in the brush.