Nigerian Girl with Calabash, by Viola Allo
Winning Poem from Poetry for the Mind's Joy, The Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress
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This poem was submitted for the "Poetry for the Mind's Joy" project and is reproduced here with permission from the author. All rights reserved. Poetry for the Mind's Joy is Poet Laureate Kay Ryan's project that includes a community college poetry contest administered by the Community College Humanities Association and a lively videoconference.
She sells milk to thirsty travelers,
wraps her spine slow on the shoulder of the road
calabash on head, broad woody bowl perched on
circular twist of dyed cotton cloth,
her body a thread beneath it.
Her thick braids say she is ethnic Fulani.
Weighted with oil, they graze the sides
of her bamboo neck, ropes that set
the bells of her red-bead, gold earrings
swaying in the steeple of her face.
Her calabash contains her offering
to the busy car park, a place of fair transactions:
a glass of milk for a few naira, for less
than the alms one might freely part with on a Sunday.
She holds herself straight on the curved arm of the road,
soothes what she can of a bounty of human need,
shelters her calabash with a flat roof of
woven straw. A point of light travels through
this palm-fiber roof to excite the lake of viscous white
trapped inside. But there is no splash of milk. No,
not like July monochrome raindrops when they slosh
in monsoon buckets that travel heavy and tilt
over Africa. Her mother must have said:
Careful, as you carry this.
As if it were a crown, slender arms of mother
and daughter lifted up and steadied the gourd,
hours ago. And when their arms fell, silver bracelets
tinkled like wind chimes, then settled loosely
on narrow wrists, encircled the warmth pulsing there.
Now, against an unguarded symphony of cars,
passengers, voices of men and machines that try to
but cannot blend, she lowers her calabash,
brings herself to the ground to uncover it. Braids,
earrings, bracelets in motion, she squats and
enters the sound that the road brings.
Some people say that Africans have been left
behind, as if time selects the ones it catches up
and pulls to the ground. But time leaves no one
behind, not even a girl with a calabash. Time
swallows her stillness like a thirsty traveler
on the road from Ibadan to Kaduna.
American River College, Sacramento, CA
Faculty Contact: Lois Ann Abraham, English Department Chair