Twelve years to the day I still remember your name

Although we never exchanged one word

Your upright adolescent back against a rusted oil barrel

In your world

Your stoop, your kitchen, your living room

Told you were “slow”

Told your mama died giving birth 

By the kind American I was in love with

Who gave your mother blood so she could hold you 

But it was too late to matter

Father Muhammad spoke in Tamasheq to the American

I sat at your side

Sifting mint tea through my straight, white teeth

In the 115-degree shade

I wanted to play a game with you

Or share a delicious treat tucked into my bag

But you stared ahead and ahead…

Stared straight past the endless desert and into the Sahel

Where everything is verdant and noisy 

And not of your world

Your stoop, your kitchen, your living room

It was getting hotter and words were running out

The white truck had to take us to the next place

For more hot mint tea and sitting and talking on worn, ornate rugs

And I said “Au revoir, Safi”

Walked away from your tent and your barrel and into the late morning air 

Diesel-and-sand, sand-and-diesel, the driving day ahead

The decade and all its days and nights were next

When the Cruel Ones came in their trucks

Turned off the music, burned the manuscripts

Slaughtered the animals, took the young men

Beat sacred space and homes alike with their angry fists and heavy hammers

Just as you became a woman

Where were you?

What did they do to you?

You were a prayer in Tombouctou

A silent child in a bright dress

Eyes fixed beyond the dry desert

Safe with Father Muhammad

In a place without peace and always the strangers and trouble

I hope you kept moving and your heart is shining somewhere 

Fed by God and the river and your Mama’s gentle soul

In your world

Your stoop, your kitchen, your living room