Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2011 v10n1
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Diamonds in the Rough

When Sierra Leone is at war, boy soldiers are prized.
Conditioned to be as boastful as Hummers, they are proud
of the way their mirrored sunglasses wink in the musky light.
Words like angst and remorse are as strange to them as calculus.

These children know their catechism: koppoh, titi, dedebodi,
and RUF. Like children they find comfort in their favorite colors—
the marine blue on the head scarf worn by “Massacre”
(the boy from Masingbe whose murder count impresses
even the captain), the pineapple yellow of T-shirts stolen
from the mission after Massacre diced up the garrulous priest
while he was still preaching.

Turned on by the screams of women, by movies
projected onto sheets tacked to the pitted walls of classrooms,
they are loyal when it suits them, treacherous when it doesn’t.

In the Eastern Province they sing,
            High we exalt thee, realm of the free
            Great is the love we have for thee

as they riddle a village with bullets.
In the Northern Province they crack
jokes as they slosh through blood.
Stallone sings them lullabies.

They are boys cubed, testosterone made nuclear.
They have learned from us the sadism of want.

At night, by the fire’s kindly light, their bare child-eyes—
lovely, complicit—sparkle like diamonds.  end

   koppoh, titi, and dedebodi—Krio for money, girl, and corpse.
   “High we exalt thee, realm of the free / Great is the love we have for thee”
       are the first lines of Sierra Leone‚Äôs national anthem.

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