Born, raised, and educated through university in Liberia, Jabbeh Wesley has lived in the U.S. for much of her adult life. In 2013, she returned to Liberia for four months, giving birth to much of her most recent poetry collection, When the Wanderers Come Home. With powerful imagery, she describes revisiting the land of her youth, now at peace but still struggling after years of civil war. (This was before the massive Ebola crisis made it to Liberia in 2014.)
In “So I Stand Here,” Jabbeh Wesley characterizes the foreignness of returning home:
I do not know these people
who have so sadly emerged out of the womb
of war after the termite’s feasting.
In “When Monrovia Rises,” she underlines the fear that pervades countries with recurring conflicts:
Everyone here barricades themselves behind steel
doors, steel bars, and those who can afford also
have walls this high. Here, we’re all afraid that one of us may light a match and start the fire again
Not all the poems are specific to post-war Liberia. In “I Need Two Bodies,” Jabbeh Wesley longs for one body to work and to fight through life, and another to rest and to sleep. In “July Rain,” she muses on the role of rain in justifying life choices: “If the rain would stop, we | would stop making babies, they say.” (Of course, as a microeconomist, I ask, Has anyone studied this? I’ve seen work on power outages and fertility and on television ownership and sexual activity, but not on rainfall.)
Here are what a couple of other critics have to say about the book:
Bidisha SK Mamata, Liberian Listener: “At heart When the Wanderers Come Home is a grieving love letter to Liberia, a country that contains her story just as she tries to contain all its stories… Despite the brokenness of what she describes, Wesley’s poetic form is smooth and steady, the neat stanzas and non-rhyming couplets capably containing the most shocking revelations.
Matthew Shenoda, World Literature Today: “In Wesley’s poetry we see the immense power of a poet working to express the human complexity and grief of a nation and her people often defined by war.”
This is book #4 in my effort to read a book by an author from every African country in 2019.