HOME
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
STAFF BIOS
BLOG
LINKS
Summer 2010
POETRY
FICTION
COLUMNS
NON-FICTION
CONTRIBUTORS
EDITORIAL
ARCHIVES
CONTACT US
Poetry

Toiling

Beijing, China

Kyla Marshell

Sorry is the first word they will teach
you, the first clamor your tongue will learn to tame,
once you have begun the work
of gathering my language in your hands and mouth,
so much of it, like an endless,
hemless skirt. You will apologize for everything, because sorry,
they tell you, reminds us of home.
It polishes you with a household sheen, is the one word
among your gestures, faces and whines that always works,
is your entire artillery of dramatic ploys and pleas
as I walk down the aisle of handbags
and compacts and silk dresses and desperate
women shouting at me for their lives.

Somewhere, there are the white houses—the castles
up on hills, the importants who sit
around drinking jasmine tea, or foreign cans of soda, while

            someone keeps them cool with a giant leaf
            someone plays dolls with their children
            someone picks redeemable bottles out of the trash
            someone scrubs the expanse of immaculate marble floor

I am a black American woman who has crossed the world to shop.
To find a white dress for my graduation from an important school.
To say, Oh, nooo, when you give me your best price. To walk away,
slowly, even once you have lowered it—to have only the gravity
of your anguish, your wilted, pleading face, tug me back.

In America, it is women like me who do this—who toil
each day for bosses and babies and husbands, who fashion
lives out of the wreckage we call history, who are famous sufferers.

But here—here you chase after me, grab my wrist and beg
me to buy—here, I have something irresistible, here I am wanted.

Maybe this dark skin is strange to you. Maybe it is a terrible scar.
But I am an American woman, high-up
in this world, my money, my family’s money,
my education, my things—
 
I buy your pleated fan. I buy your jade necklace. I buy
your Buddha, your cherry wood dragon, your Chinese checkers
set. I buy it all, just for that moment of exchange, your eyes
meeting mine, one woman to another, the mules of the world,

            so firm of heart, so tender of fist.

RETURN TO POETRY INDEX >