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Sanctuary

Nyamata Genocide Memorial, Rwanda

By Carol Townsend

The church stands open, pillars wrapped in bunting,

white and purple, tattered remnants of ceremony;

fresh breezes disturb pendants hung from here to there,

and on the concrete floor, our shoes leave prints in the dust.

Her hands folded in prayer, the Blessed Virgin stands on a ledge.

The tabernacle is gouged, one wooden door shattered,

and upon the altar’s bloodstained cloth, sits an identity card.

The photo is worn, the checkmark faded,

delineating who was Cain. Who was Abel.

I think I hear the buzz of flies, smell the stink of fear.

Light slices through shrapnel holes in tin overhead,

beams down on the slaughtereds’ clothing, piled three feet deep;

heaped in one room, the attire of children,

children who had once hugged strangers’ knees.

The sound of small skulls slamming the wall echoes still.

Beneath the floor, in a glass case, skulls are lined up –

each mutilated by machete, bullet, or club –

they offer silent witness, and there below,

the coffin of a woman whose body bore a cross

forced up into her, all the way to the brain.

CAROL TOWNSEND is an associate professor and former chair of the Design Department at SUNY Buffalo State. This poem is part of a series inspired by a recent visit to Rwanda as part of the college’s Anne Frank Project. She presented the work this past Thursday in a talk entitled “Experience Our Experience: Poetry as Transformation” as part of “Transforming Lives,” the fifth Annual Anne Frank Project Conference at SUNY Buffalo State.