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The Wall
Sholeh Wolpé

She takes a nail, places it on the spot she has marked,
bites her upper lip, lifts the hammer and misses with a loud crash.
This is my cousin, the one with the Lucille Ball face,
black hair, unbroken eyes. She wants to hang
her dead husband’s picture on the wall.

The large hole in the paper-thin wall scares her stiff
as does the thought of her priggish landlord with his pinkish
eye, and his grey eyebrows like two unruly mustaches.

It’s been only a month since she arrived in London,
a lone woman, two children in tow, little money,
open wide for what may come— work, luck, anything.

And now she is terrified because this will not do, this large hole
in the wall for which the sun-starved landlord could kick her
out without a gram of pity in his gurgling kidney pie-fed gut.

She hurries to Harry’s hardware where just last week
she bought two plastic chairs, grabs old Harry’s sleeve,
and in fearless broken English cries, I have a big hole. Too big.
I want make it smaller. You help?

Harry laughs and calls over Joe, who calls over Mike,
and they consult, their bald heads together, three chuckling
chums. They send her to the shop two doors down,
and my cousin, the sight of the big hole in the wall still patched to
her mind’s eye, stumbles into the red-shaded shop, is startled
by a woman screaming, Yes, yes, you’re the king. You’re the king.

The only king she knows is the Shah, and as she looks up at the glaring
screen, sees that the one addressed with such ardor is no Shah, just a balding
blond naked man convulsing like one possessed, over a woman’s pale body.
The shop sells unspeakable things, but the one that most catches her eye
uncannily resembles her dead husband’s private part.

She may be naïve, not much schooled; she may have married
a man twenty years her senior, never looked at another, not even now,
but she knows what kind of place she has been sent to.

A practical joke on a foreign woman with a broken tongue. But still,
she needs to mend her wall, not be kicked out, eke, survive.

She catapults out of the sex shop and back into Harry’s Hardware,
her chin not down, her eyes
not averted, her shoulders not sagged.
With flames roasting her cinnamon eyes, pinkening
her cheeks, my cousin politely asks: You help me. I have a hole
in the wall. The wall.