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.

Rights & Access

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.
  • Viola Allo

    American River College, Sacramento, CA

    Faculty Advisor: Lois Ann Abraham, English Department Chair