These three poems are meditations on the way women experience the world. I believe that art can advocate for change, and I hope my poems reflect this personal value.
A father takes his daughter to market,
asks how much she’s worth. She sits
on one side of a scale while the vendor
loads cases of pomegranates
on the other. No, the father says,
I sent her to school. The vendor opens
a toolbox, takes out a light bulb, checks
the filament before screwing it
into her ear. Okay, he says and starts
stacking timber and nails on the scale.
In the next stall, a young woman earns
her weight in sea glass and silk. The father
gestures toward her, wants to know why
his daughter isn’t worth so much. That girl
is a whore, says the vendor. And my
daughter is not? asks the father.
She looks at the timber and sighs. The vendor
checks her pulse at her wrist and neck.
She’s no whore, he says. The father nods.
No worry, the vendor says, putting
the girl on a cinderblock toward the back.
Someone will buy your daughter.
Let me call her Kali
though the goddess is blue.
In India, no one pretends
to believe in equality; perhaps
it's easier to live without that lie.
The teacher weighs the children,
spoons out chickpea and lentil.
Because it is hotter in the windowless
classroom, I take the children outside
and am chastised for drawing in the dirt
with a stick. The old man acts as if I've
written on his house. Who owns this dry
plot anyway? The girls giggle and hopscotch
on one foot, even the one whose name I will
lose. I'm reluctant to give her my mother's
ring, though this girl offers me the swollen
trunk of her arm, the nail bed of her thumb
Her Mortal Part
At the Padre Pio shrine,
my sister kneels, genuflects,
her face among the snakes
at Mary’s feet. I light a votive,
thinking how she has stood
at her mirror, studied every arc
and plane of her skin, the neat
camber of her breasts, her hips,
played over and over all
that she finds flawed. What makes
a body open from the center,
fill with light, until it glows, until it
almost burns? Some are born
with God’s thumbnail in their wrist.
"Tender" explores the way men may define the worth of women. Readers do not expect the father to be selling the daughter when they go to market. Here I tried to imagine what an educated woman is worth: is it something practical like timber and nails? And what about the prostitute: what is she worth to the men who shop at this bazaar?
"Let me call her Kali" was inspired by an experience I had volunteering in Dharamsala, India, in June 2007. The poem is about offering oneself to another.
"Her Mortal Part" is about body image. Many women and girls suffer psychologically and physically from the unhealthy expectations they believe they are supposed to meet. To accentuate one young woman's suffering I compared it to Padre Pio's stigmata.
"Tender" has previously appeared in HerMark 2009.
"Let me call her Kali" is forthcoming in Whiskey Island Review.
"Her Mortal Part" has previously appeared in The Grolier Poetry Annual.
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