About the Poem
The poet writes: “I wrote ‘Home Is a Woman’ in the summer of 2018. I was enrolled in an independent summer course with Professor Steven Leyva at the University of Baltimore. Unfortunately, it was also the summer my paternal grandmother passed away. I was named Arao after both my paternal and maternal grandmothers. She was my last living grandparent and her death shook me.
I had gone home to Lango for her funeral but I didn’t drop my poetry class. I was still turning in assignments when I was in Uganda. I wrote the poem during the six-hour car ride from Kampala to Lira about an earlier experience I had in a matatu. I told myself that when I left the car, I would have written something. I was thinking about Atat (grandmother) and I was thinking about her quiet strength. I was also thinking about my mother and my mother’s mother. I’m not sure if it was grief or frustration or both, but instead of crying, I decided to write. I wrote the poem by hand in a journal I keep in my bag, transcribed it, and then turned it in as part of my assignment for class. For two full years, I sent out the poem to literary journals, so this poem about “home” was literally looking for a home. I knew it was finished and it would be accepted somewhere, without any changes. I just had to be patient and not give up.”
Listen to the Poem in English
Listen to the Poem in Spanish
Home is a Woman Before I enter the matatu for the drive to Kampala then Lira the driver stops me to tell me he’s never seen me on this route “you must live outside” I remember I live outside my own country I pretend not to hear and he says it again, this time behind a cigarette and a smile he asks me “who are your people? who is your father? your grandfather?” saying he may know my people I tell him my mother’s name and her mother’s name and my great-grandmothers’ names I tell him about the names of the land they could not inherit unless their brothers or fathers or husbands gave it to them I name and map the land, from that tree to the edge of the river I tell him where my great-grandmothers were born where my grandmothers were born where my mother was born I hum the names of the women in my family over and over again like a forgotten prayer a forbidden song he asks again “who are your forefathers, you girl?” I ask him “and who gave birth to them?” and I say the names of the women who gave birth to them our ride is silent from Kampala to Lira he gives me a curious glance from the rearview mirror at my many faces looking at me while I hold on to my suitcase while I carry all the women living inside of me I carry them home
El Hogar Es Una Mujer Antes de subir al matatu* Para viajar a Kampala, y luego a Lira el conductor me detiene para decirme que nunca me ha visto en esta ruta. “Debes vivir afuera.” Recuerdo que vivo fuera de mi propio país. Finjo no oír y él lo repite, esta vez detrás de un cigarro y una sonrisa. Me pregunta “¿quiénes son tu gente? ¿quién es tu padre? ¿tu abuelo? y dice que puede ser que conozca a mi gente. Le digo el nombre de mi madre y el nombre de su madre y los nombres de mis bisabuelas. Le cuento los nombres de la tierra que ellas no podían heredar a menos que sus hermanos o padres o maridos se la dieran. Nombro y mapeo la tierra, desde ese árbol hasta la orilla del río. Le digo donde nacieron mis bisabuelas, donde nacieron mis abuelas, donde nació mi madre. Tarareo los nombres de las mujeres de mi familia una y otra vez como una oración olvidada, una canción prohibida. El vuelve a preguntarme “¿Quiénes son tus antepasados, chica?” Yo le pregunto “¿Y quién los parió a ellos? Nuestro viaje desde Kampala hasta Lira es en silencio. Me mira con curiosidad desde el espejo retrovisor, mis múltiples caras, me mira mientras agarro mi maleta, mientras llevo a todas las mujeres que viven dentro de mí. Las llevo a casa. *************************************************************************** *Matatu = un matatu es un tipo de autobús pequeño que es popular en Kenya, Tanzania, y Uganda, un modo de transportación barata que lleva muchos pasajeros. Translated by Linda Murphy Marshall
Arao Ameny is a Ugandan-born, Maryland-based poet and writer from Lira, Lango, Northern Uganda. She earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Baltimore. She is a former journalist and communications professional. She has a MA in journalism from Indiana University and a BA in political science from the University of Indianapolis. Her first published poem “Home is a Woman” appeared in The Southern Review in 2020 and won the 2020 James Olney Award. She was a winner of the 2020 Brooklyn Poets Fellowship, a finalist for the 2021 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, a nominee for the 2021 Best New Poets Anthology for the poem “Home is a Woman” and selected for the 2022 Best New Poets Anthology for the poem “The Mothers”. In January 2023, Relations: An Anthology of African and Diaspora Voices edited by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond published her first short story “Atat” (‘grandmother’ in the Leb Lango language). She is an alumna of the Tin House workshop (fiction writing) and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop (poetry). Currently, she has a one-year contract role as a biography writer and editor at the Poetry Foundation.
Home is a Woman is Arao Ameny’s first published poem and its last two couplets make a striking reiteration of the poem’s premise. “I carry all the women living inside of me,” writes Arao. The language is lucid yet crisp, simple yet utterly moving. A poem of memories, it is a testament to not just matriarchs but also a longing for home. “You must live outside”, a Ugandan driver says. A patriarchal demand for her paternal origins is demanded afterward. “Who are your people? Who is your father?” the driver asks, insisting on a mention of forefathers despite a given maternal history.
Arao’s poem defiantly critiques patriarchal masculinity, exemplifying Bell Hooks’ notions in The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love. According to Hooks, “The crisis facing men is not the crisis of masculinity, it is the crisis of patriarchal masculinity.” While one may assume autobiographical ranges in the poem given Arao’s background as a Ugandan based in the U.S., the poem’s reach is beyond her.
In 2018, Reuters reported tragic “unsolved” murders of young women, with more than 20 corpses along roadsides south of Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Cases of child marriage and gender-based violence still ripple across Uganda but the crux of Arao’s poem, though critical, does not reduce itself to a polemic or anthropological discourse. The poem pulsates with a narrative texture that deifies women, and its title aptly captures this.
Though Home is a Woman is Arao Ameny’s first published poem, it is so poignant and remarkable. Since the publication of the poem in 2020, Arao Ameny has been invited to read her poetry at a public forum hosted by the United Nations and been selected for the 2022 Best New Poets anthology, an anthology of emerging poets distributed nationally by the University of Virginia Press.
“Male Feminists inside Uganda’s Police Strike out at Killing of Women.” Reuters, 5 Mar. 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-women-police-idUSKBN1GH1OG.