This poem by Ivanova Nono Fotso of Cameroon placed first in our September writing contest. Contest participants were invited to respond to this prompt in 400 words or less: “Write a psalm or poem that expresses to God your pain over injustice, racism, violence, poverty or some other challenge in your country and your cry for His intervention.” Twenty-five writers from a dozen nations submitted entries in this English contest.
“Beautifully written, compelling message about love,” the contest judges described Ivanova’s poem. “Great imagination poured into every stanza. Very affecting piece of work especially when the poem turns inward and we discover [the author] is the problem. This kind of vulnerability is what makes the poem really powerful!”
Contest judges Lillian Tindyebwa and Betty Kituyi of Uganda founded Uganda Faith Writers Association and Quiet Garden Publishing. Lillian’s novel Recipe for Disaster is used as reader in lower secondary schools. She is also a university lecturer for English and Literature. Betty is a poet with two published poetry books; a leading science educator and award-winning mentor of young women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
My Heart Is a Battlefield
By Ivanova Nono Fotso
25 million inhabitants, 280 tribes, over 250 native languages.
What you hear is the power of numbers
And the musicality of our languages.
What is muted are the taunts at dialects,
Like mine that sounds funny.
My accent and surname are Shibboleths
That can deprive me of my rights.
What you see is the uniformity of one race
Right from the cradle where they are all so cute.
What is hidden from your eyes are the shades of black,
Which the ears of newborns already betray,
And that measure our beauty,
From the ugliest to the fairest.
What you cheer is the diversity of our national team
And the freedom of speech of our political parties.
What is at stake behind the scenes
Is my safety in the neighborhood,
When the flat-footed player is my namesake
And the failed candidate, my fellow tribesman.
No, my country is not at war;
The real battle is fought in my heart:
Love against hatred, love against fear.
Fear blows: “Flee away! This place is not safe.”
Hatred strikes: “Hate them back! Stab them with your words. “
O Lord! Come and help me!
I don’t want to hate my brother,
I don’t want to fear my neighbor,
I don’t want to despise myself,
But I no longer have the strength to love.
I come to learn from you.
I want to reflect your love.
You knew the feelings expressed, and the resentments hidden.
You saw the times when hate won, and actions taken.
Yet you loved us with a love that led you to the cross.
Love is not blind;
It sees offenses, and offers forgiveness.
Love is not weak;
It swims against the tide of impulsive reactions,
To bring healing to the broken heart.
If I can help my neighbor,
Without asking which tribe he is from;
If I can rejoice and mourn with my compatriot,
Not dwelling on the harm we have done to ourselves,
If I can lift up for my fellow men a sincere prayer of blessing
And not that of retribution,
Then good will have overcome evil.
Love will have won the battle.
At least in my heart.
Ivanova Nono Fotso is a children’s author and scriptwriter. Her work has been published by PJA – Publications pour la Jeunesse Africaine, in the form of comics and illustrated books. She led workshops on scriptwriting in Abidjan, 2014 with Comix35, and Ghana, 2019 at LittAfrica. She lives in Yaounde, Cameroon.
>>Read the runner-up in our September writing contest, “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Christina Ko of the U.S.
Write to Win! Enter our two remaining writing contests. Respond to each writing prompt in English or Spanish, in 400 words or less, and enter to win $50 USD. Check out the contest guidelines.
Top photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash