Malaria Poems: Okapi

Background photo ©James Gathany/CDC, Designed by Leigh Cavanaugh
By Cameron Conaway

“The war against infectious disease has been won.”3

– 1969


I know the field of grass

is green but my eyes

know different knowings. 

To them green burns black

and white sun splinters

blades like bad memory

or the legs of the okapi

the students work to draw

from inside their hut.

The teacher carries on

her head a basket of stones

and gives each student one.

Your own stone, she says,

has all you’ll ever need

to draw the great animal.

Feel its shapes in your hands.

See its shadows on the paper.

Trace its ridges as a compass.

Press it hard and it will give

itself until it is no longer.

I see students tap pencils.

Hear them groan at the task.

But cast in the air’s canvas

is the gang-raped teacher

who tells me only that it was

“by more than ten” last week.

Who tells me the choice: stay

home and starve or leave

to fields for food and be raped.

Something about the silence

of a place where wails were.

Something about how violence

seals itself silently within us

and we sometimes carry on.

About the Author

Cameron Conaway is the Social Justice Editor at The Good Men Project. He was the 2011-2012 Poet-in-Residence at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Thailand and the 2007-2009 Poet-in-Residence at the University of Arizona’s MFA Creative Writing Program. His work has appeared or been reviewed in ESPNThe Huffington PostRattleTeach MagazineMöbius The AustralianCosmopolitan and the Ottawa Arts Review, among others. His first book of poems, “Until You Make the Shore,” was released in Winter 2013 from Salmon Poetry. For more information visit

3. U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart, 1969. Quoted: Peoria Magazines, The Crisis of Antibiotic Resistance. Jonathan Wright. 05/2012.