Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
This poem is from my collection of 45 recent poems, "How to Make a Dress out of Silence"
There are five lakes, three farms, a railway track,
blue hills far away and torn banana leaves
down in the valley where Mohammed lives:
my gentle gardener, a silent man;
each day he brings me hibiscus, sweeps the dust
from garden paths, meticulous and calm.
I sit there on my rooftop, alone and calm.
I paint my canvases: the tracks;
purple lotus; lakes that dry to dust;
women with bellied water jars; the leaves
are rafts of green. The little lives
planting, winnowing, hoeing; the men
who wade behind their ploughs; lives
entirely circumscribed. I paint the calm
pale buffalo. On my canvas tiny men
harness the seasons in the track
of monsoon and drought. Typhoons leave
annual destruction in the dust.
I am an alien in this land of flood and dust.
I cannot grasp the nuances of lives
more fragile than the ripped banana leaves.
From the garden Mohammed, strong and calm,
brings flowers for my table. Streaming down the tracks,
beggars, women, ragged journeymen.
The alien's a wanderer: she must go with her man:
tomorrow they will leave the dirt and dust,
the rounded hills, the crowded railway tracks,
return to the complex city’s busy life,
leave the calm she’s found here, deceptive calm.
She packs and cries the night before they leave.
He comes to the echoing house before they leave,
brings her hibiscus red as menstrual blood, a man
proud, his brown eyes warm, no longer calm,
his hands and feet clothed in the fertile dust
so that I caught my breath, almost forgot our lives
must always run along two different tracks.
The moment hung between them like the dust
until they stepped away, back into their real lives:
she Memsahib, he Mohammed from the poor side of the tracks.
© Janice Windle 2012