Medecins sans frontieres — Liberia, 2003

Les Cohen ~

I walk warily, 

searching for life
through smoking remains
of a jungle village.

My flashlight beam
slices the black haze
of equatorial darkness.
Was it Suakoko?

No wind, rustle or drum
pierces the silence
of West African night.
Torched husks of thatched huts,
clay walls liquefied,
charred dog skeletons,
feet outstretched
as if running from Hell.
Stench of burnt flesh pervades,
stinging eyes and nostrils.

Soft footsteps coming close.
A small, thin boy approaches;
mahogany face, bright teeth
glisten in the moonlight.
Bloody machete, strings of
bleached-white finger
bones dangle over a tattered


Smiling, voice soft,
he hisses
Give me medsuh,
give me cokayh,

No, no,
don’t kill me,
I am doctuh,
take my medical bag, wallet, watch, shoes.
I try to scream, but
no sound escapes.

He slowly lifts an AK-47
to my face.
Shaking his head, grinning
his finger curls,
tightening around the trigger.

About the poet:

Les Cohen has taught and practiced in Boston for many years. His short stories have appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Archives of Internal Medicine, Journal of General Internal Medicine, JAMA, Hospital Drive and r.kv.r.y quarterly literary journal.

About the poem:

“I was a Peace Corps physician in Liberia from 1965 to 1967. In 2003, when I saw a photograph of one of the smiling ‘soldiers’ of Taylor’s Children’s Army and read of the courageous work of MSF, I wrote this prose poem.”

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro

About the Poem

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