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Word of Mouth

Raising Awareness Of Malaria With Poetry

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Cameron Conaway is a writer, poet, editor and former Social Good fellow. His article, “A Working Malaria Vaccine Can’t Get Money”, was published at Newsweek and chronicles the story of a small upstart trying to bring their working malaria vaccine to market.

Cameron's collection of poetry, Malaria, Poems  was selected as  an NPR Best Book of 2014, and he shared two poems with us from the collection. Virginia spoke with him about his Newsweek article.

Still Born

“Malaria in pregnancy causes 200,000 still births in Africa.”

—Ghana Web, 2009

As the shadow attaches to her toes,

so the mother slings the still

born over her shoulder until night

when her birthed treasure is buried

with the others under the blankets.

At cock’s crow she presses the pink

of his unformed lips to her breast.

Soon the dead will have another

Birthday, and she will tell him stories.

Though skin worked as silk turns

rough as road, she will caress

river rock moss with her bare feet

as she traps fish and recalls the never

there of his black downy hair.

In bed when the cold cat curls

around her like fog, it will be him,

and she will match her breath to his.

Unlike most in these hills, she knows

miracles aren’t and will can’t, but she

is dreaming deeply and nothing beats

back cold like real or imagined smiles.

Store (v.)

Mosquitoes can rapidly develop resistance to bed nets treated with insecticide.”

—BBC, 2011

There is a store that stands out because it is nearly three years old and because it is made of treated lumber not thatch and because its logo is a photo of a man white as lightning using two hands to choke a human-sized mosquito. The store sells insecticide-treated nets, but it has never sold any because each net costs as much as two years of work, and although the store shows no profit, it stays open and clean and luminescent. A local diplomat comes once a month, whenever fits his schedule, to cut the grass around the store with a shiny red lawnmower and from the looks of it to jingle some of the rust off the old silver latch on the door. When the store first opened, an acting troupe made up of people all white as lightning rolled through and put on a free free free performance for the tribespeople. One of the actors wore angel wings and a giant mosquito head mask with antennae that wobbled and must have wobbled so much before in other performances that duct tape was used to hold them together. This mosquito man went around flapping his arms, and when he touched the other actors they all fell to the floor and convulsed and then came to a still or tried to come to a still, after all they were in the grass and had to itch when bugs crawled on them. There was one who never even came close to convulsing or coming to a still though. He was a man who wore a net over his entire body, and he had a cape with the logo of a man white as lightning using two hands to choke the human-sized mosquito. He didn’t run around or run from but he frolicked without a care in the world, and when the mosquito came over and danced around this superman and looked confused and then dove in and made contact with the netted crusader, the mosquito fell and then convulsed and then came to a still and joined all the other people white as lightning who were sprawled all over the field trying to be still but giving in to the itching. The tribespeople laughed and cheered, and some were so happy that tears did not frolic but ran down their cheeks, and when the sun hit their tears just right the clear of the tear burned white as lightning.