Patricia Jabbeh Wesley Reads from Praise Song for My Children

Autumm House presents a reading and discussion with Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

May 2, 2020

To celebrate Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s newest poetry collection, Autumn House is sharing a reading and discussion with the poet and excerpts, including one poem from each of the sections that comprise Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems. Praise Song for My Children showcases twenty-one years of Patricia’s remarkable work. In the video below, Patricia reads “Some Things You Never Stop Looking For” and discusses her writing process. We hope you enjoy the video and reading the poems below.


When I Meet My Ancestors

from New Poems (2017-2019)

When my ancestors come to greet me
at the outskirts of the other world,
I will be carrying in my hands, all the bags
of leaves the wind has brought me
from my neighbor’s yard.

When I cross over the threshold into the other
world, my ancestors will wonder
what it is I am carrying.

When I greet my ancestors, I will tell them
how my life has been littered by falling
leaves, falling dreams, falling skies.
I will tell my Fathers about a journey
they did not know I would take.
It is not the leaves alone I will be carrying.
It is not the heartache of living so far
away from home I will be carrying.
It is not just the tears in a pail I will be carrying.
It is not just the sore feet the wanderer carries
I will be bringing.

When I meet my Mothers, they will sit
me down on The Mat to wipe my eyes.
When I meet my Mothers, they will sit
me down on The Mat
and wipe my eyes.
When I meet my mother,
she will sit me on her lap, and wipe my eyes.
When I meet my mother, she will sit
me on her lap, and with her lappa,
she will wipe my eyes.
When I meet my mother, she will take
from my tired hands, this bundle of rotten
leaves and the pail of tears
I have brought to her.

When I meet my mother, she will sit
me in the middle of the room
just like she did when I came home
after years away at boarding school.
When I meet my mother,
she will sit me on her lap, and with her
lappa, she will dry my tears.


In My Dream

from When the Wanderers Come Home (2016)

In my dream, I’m on the road, flying
somewhere, stranded at an airport.
I’ve lost my car or lost the keys
in my lost purse.
Or I’m in the airport security line
without my passport, a lone traveler
without a country.

So they want to know my country.
They want to know my place of birth.
They want to know the map that got me lost.
They want to know the name of those
who shattered my dream,
shattered my lost country.

So I say, I’m a woman looking for home,
displaced, a bag of useless goods
for my journey, a flip-flap, a ragged
bundle that only a refugee carries.
I’m the lost and unfound, from those
who did not come on boats,

those that did not come ticketed
in chains, those who did not fit in chains,
those, neither welcome by those who came
on boats nor in chains. I’m among
the newcomers, the new, newcomers.
Those who came, ticketed

not by plane tickets or train tickets.
Those who came ticketed by live bullets,
grenades and rocket missiles,
those, still bleeding from their sides,
those who found their way here
by crawling among the dead.


Some Things You Never Stop Looking For

from Where the Road Turns (2010)

Your mother’s last words before she was ready to go,
those moments of lost days, your last image

of her that had nothing to do with dying.
That too, lost to memory or memory to the image.

Then there’s the memory card where on a photo,
you waved and waved at moments on their way
to being lost, where the photographer

was your last crush before you walked up or down
the aisles with someone else, and the crush,
standing on the sidewalk
as your wedding procession rolled by.

Then there are those moments when you almost
lost it on the birthing table; blood and water,

rushing out with the baby, the dirty water being
spilled in the baby’s eyes, and now, someone has
to save your last born from drowning
in her own water rescue.

But over and over, you lost the hope of seeing it all,
of seeing the bleeding, the stitching and the rush

to save you from drowning yourself in that sacred
moment. That first shrill cry of your own baby,
and the finality of innocence.

But you’ve never stopped looking for your sweet
cousin who died in this same universal chamber, one

life for one life, your cousin Hazel, gone just like that.
Someone told you later that the afterbirth can refuse

to let go of its owner, but when the life that was birthed
became lost too, after the burial and the wailing, after

the mute line of handshakes, the child, also lost,
you’ve never stopped searching for the reason why.

All the cherished spaces you gave up at adolescence
just so you would become.
How your own heart was broken over and over

until you grew up to discover that the heart cannot
become steel unless it is broken over and over.

So you seek out the steel, and with a slice of steel
from your heart, you mend your own heart.

After that, you discovered how sweet it is for the heart
to be broken just so you can carry something
with a scar on your person.

But you’ve never stopped looking for those lost places
of childhood, your father’s house, where the river’s flow
had nothing to do with the river’s flow.

And here you are, still seeking solitudes, searching
for friends you lost growing up, for friends you
lost, fleeing, for the friends you never had,

for the friends you will never meet on this side of life,
lost lovers, lost kisses and hugs and the tears
                 when you were only seventeen.

What about your crush on your favorite teacher
who couldn’t even remember your name?

All of this to arrive here, still searching for a lost sock
here, a lost boot there, a child’s glove, even though
                the child now stands taller than you.

There are those things you forever seek, the lost disk,
with your entire life story jammed into it,
and the loss in your sweetheart’s eyes,

where the landscape stretches so wide,
                even the eye loses ground looking.


Monrovia Revisited

from The River Is Rising (2007)

This is the city that killed my mother.
Its crooked legs bent
from standing too long,
waiting so angry people can kill
themselves too.

No more grass along street corners—
so many potholes from years of war.
Immigrants from all over the globe
used to come here
on tender feet,

in search of themselves.
Abandoned city—
a place that learned
how to cry out loud even though
nobody heard.

This is the city where I first learned
how to lose myself.
Windy city, blue ocean city.
They say a city on the hill
cannot be hid.

The city of salty winds, salty tears,
where stubborn people still hold
us hostage after Charles Taylor.
You should come here if you want
to know how sacred
pain can be.


I Am Acquainted with Waiting

from Becoming Ebony (2003)

We waited to see if after all that smoke and shooting,
there was still us. Twelve years now,
all the anger subsiding, and again building up
among my countrymen who know how to go to war.

When Jesus hung there on the cross so many years
ago, waiting for the hour when all blood and life
would let go of him, Jesus, hanging on that cross,
his mother waiting below for the solitude hour?
Death came, comforting, like dew drops,
and then the resurrection.

After a woman has been laboring too many hours,
when the baby is finally crowned—
trust me, only the father stands jubilant at this time.
But when the waiting is done, after that last push,
after the tearing, and the baby’s first cry,
when the sore mother holds her child

at her breast, trust me, how insignificant,
all that waiting. So I wait, you wait, we wait.
I am acquainted with waiting. I know the feeling
after all the flame and the smoke, after a long rainy night,
at dawn, the burnt shells of snails, the charred corpses
of scorpions, the forest fire, now quenched.
Trust me—we will return home someday, trust me.


Monrovia Women

from Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (1998)

Monrovia women…
Here they come!
You see their colorful faces
before you know their hearts.
Shining, red lips, red cheeks,
painted eyelids and lashes.
Perhaps they would like
to paint their pupils too!
Their eyebrows take to various routes
to suit their longing hearts.

Aye, Monrovia women…
Look at their necks!
You could build a mansion
from jewelry a single woman wears.
Sometimes, like Indians,
their noses wear gold rings,
while their ears themselves
wear several others too.

You have yet to see their hands…
Long nails painted
to match the various hues
their eyes and cheeks wear.
Fingers held apart
by heavy gold rings.
Oh, you should see them
walking down the road.

Monrovia women…
In evening gowns and dresses,
lappa suits and costly coats,
on their way to work.
You should see them at work!
They nurse and paint their nails all day,
and guide their skirts from hooking
on to a rusty nail.

Monrovia women…
Strolling in the humid sun
in high, expensive shoes.
If you would stop
to ask their toes
how much fun it really is,
walking in such heels,
I’m sure you’d say aye-yah,
for our poor Monrovia woman.


Praise Song for My Children celebrates twenty-one years of poetry by one of the most significant African poets of this century. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley guides us through the complex and intertwined highs and lows of motherhood and all the roles that it encompasses: parent, woman, wife, sister, friend. Her work is deeply personal, drawing from her own life and surroundings to convey grief, the bleakness of war, humor, deep devotion, and the hope of possibility.

“Here is work of incredible joy, deepest lamentation, and necessary hope. It is a sure testament.”—Kwame Dawes

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