Monday, July 20, 2009

Balancing Act - a poem

Kirkuk 1959

She did learn to spit

But only after she had learned
to walk along the craggy garden path
carrying stones on her head.

She was soon able to walk
barefoot back straight head held high
without rattling the stones
in the pan from her mother's scales.

When they grew up
her friends wanted to be nurses
or teachers
or just like their mothers.

She wanted to carry water
in a brass ewer on her head
without spilling a drop.

She wanted to spit
like the men in the suq
leaning against doorways
or drinking small glasses of tea
at wobbly tables
listening to tinny radios
as they took slow drags on their hookahs.

They never carried anything
on their heads
like the women
with their water
and wood
and heaps of fruit
dirty laundry on the way to the river
clean laundry on the way back again.

The men spat
as they talked and drank
and the women walked by
so tall so graceful
their steady gaze leading the way
never dropping a thing.

She did learn to spit
behind the pomegranate bush
at the bottom of the garden
while her mother slept
under a lazy fan
in a darkened room.

She was discovered by her father
who forbade spitting.

But he did allow her to borrow
the pan from her mother's kitchen scales
so she could walk around the garden
balancing stones on her head.


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