we repeat

By Dženana Vucic

30 June, 2021

Dženana Vucic is Running Dog’s poet in residence for May and June 2021.

Each month, a poet produces new work, which is distributed via Running Dog’s monthly newsletter—Stray. If you haven’t already, sign up to our newsletter.


Content warning: This poem evokes trauma as a result of war, genocide, and islamophobia. It makes reference to past and ongoing instances of ethnic cleansing, genocide, apartheid, sexual violence and murder. 

•   •   •

my mother took up smoking after we escaped the war

it didn’t last long but the cigarette trembling in her hands,

the flick of the lighter—once, twice, flare—her face

pale against the summer, will outlast plastic and concrete

and whole civilizations. she was twenty-four once and

I want to be dead unfilled from her mouth and slid to the

ground between us & we buried it alive & we watched it spawn.


This is not the poem I intended to write, though it is the poem I am always writing. I have said this before. I will say it again. This is the poem I am always writing.


my mother is scrupulously clean, my sister too. we are a

family of compulsion and anti-bacterial spray. it is because we

are dirty. we have always been dirty. we bring the dirt with us,

between our skin and our hijabs, hoarded under the tiles of our

mosques, in the mouths of our imams and the meat of our halal

chickens. we bring the dirt with us until we are cleansed & we

have been cleansed & our country has been cleansed of us.


In 1992, took root and spawned, undelimited and purposeless. Now we are overtaken. Dissimulation is a purpose, though not a legal one. We are overtaken.


my sister was born into a dead country, in need of ablution.

this is how we learned to be clean. it is more than taking

off your shoes when entering your home. it is learning: the

home is not yours. in the home that is not ours, 8000 brothers

and uncles are killed while our neighbours watch and we are

raped so that our children will not be like us, or worse: like them.

the home that is not ours is cleansed & we are cleansed.


I wanted to write a poem about language, but there is only the language of looking away. Clashes. Tensions. Clearance operations. Rubber bullets are just bullets with white-wash.


my sister was a little girl once, big wet eyes and a knife under her

pillow; she spent hours straightening the fibres of her carpet so that

each would lay just so and, if disturbed, warn her: intruder. intruder.

in case of dread: break glass, remove hunger, chew. oh, but we have

been hungry / little girls with crusts of bread and sharpened stomachs.

now my sister is broken glass, jangling. the clack of her teeth begs &

shards fall to the ground & pierce our soles & there are always little girls. 


Twenty years later people call it what it was: genocide, a word that only exists in past tense. It has definition, purpose and, in the present, would require us, if only to stop it.
Other words that exist only in past tense include apartheid and concentration camp.
We are not required.




Further Reading

A Brief History of Ethnic Cleansing

Myanmar Rohingya: What you need to know about the crisis
Human Rights Watch: Rohingya

Amnesty says China has created ‘dystopian hellscape’ in Xinjiang
‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape

Palestine Reading List

Ethiopian patriarch pleads for international help to stop rape and genocide by government troops
“Dying by blood or by hunger”: The war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, explained