The Maynard
Spring 2016

Juliane Okot Bitek

We Could Have Called Him Joe, We Didn't

He wasn’t a Joe.

Joe was the young man, learning how to hold seeds & rub the soil off them between his palms. He blew off the red dust which rose & settled into a fine powder on his face. Carefully, he picked out a seed between his thumb & forefinger & rubbed it until it shone. That was Joe.

Joe was the man who held his daughter’s hand on the way to school. Joe held his sister’s child, over his neck & bounced the baby who laughed gleefully & held onto his forehead with eyes shut tight, dizzy with life, dizzy with the moment.

Joe went to harvest grass to thatch his hut.
Joe built bricks.
Joe went to school.
Joe was young.
Joe was old.

Joe was the grandfather who drank too much.
Joe beat his wife.
Joe hated politicians & soldiers.
Joe screwed around. He was a slut.
Joe farted inappropriately just for the amusement of seeing someone else wrinkle the nose & pretend that there was nothing in the air.

Joe smoked.

Joe didn’t smoke.
Joe prayed.
Joe didn’t go to church.
We could have called him Joe, but we didn’t.

We called him Ladit, the older one, the respected one, the elder.
He wasn’t old. He was older. He was the guide, the teacher, the leader, the judge, the dreamer, the prophet, the healer, the pronoun, the one.

Ladit was the one through whom everything was possible, & was not.
He was the uncle, the lover, the friend, the husband, the son, the brother.
He was the father of us all.

Ladit was loved & hated, scorned & admired.
He loved, hated, scorned & admired.
Sometimes he was jealous & then he threatened to maim & kill. Sometimes he did. Ladit was happy, determined, courageous, kind & just.
He was angry, bereaved, frustrated & tired.

He cared for us deeply, except when he didn’t.
He loved his children.
He loved his women.
He loved his companions.
He loved his country.
Sometimes, he too, was sad.