Poor Soil (a shanty)

by Preti Taneja

Some say I grew from poor soil, because I’m a traveller see; I come from a line of fleet-footed women, they none of them stayed, you could say they strayed and none would ever claim me.

O the wind blows the seed from the grasses                That rise all across the meadows and fields          I could show you the hideouts, the fissures, the furrows, the cracks in the concrete, giving way, giving way, and the bluest of flowers grows there.

A man can say he is heeding a call – to the seas, to the forests, to the wars; but a woman in search over hard parched earth, over dark, sticky mud? I know what they call her.

Deep swimming where the water is fresh and green, shrivelling the nipples, the skin to its age – what will come, comes faster in the glades, in the reeds, though you wouldn’t think it: for you, time stops, when you sit and take ease in the sun through the branches, stealing strength from the trunk and the old, old bark, get lower, get lower, to the chrysalis cocoon, where life happens suddenly, and then it is gone – don’t tell me time slows, for there it speeds up and the most lovely thing, the mottled green algae waits to be drained and be changed to your will, it will come, it will become lost to your short memory.

In the rising of cities and towns and estates, in the swallowing of earth, in the smelting; in the channelling of water, in the laying of tracks, between the iron parallels and the hard wooden slats, in the mixing of cement, in the extraction, in the formation, in the clean straight lines, in the glinting of sun on sightless panes, in the red shamed autumn and in the bare winter, somewhere between towers, in the spaces of sky I wait to be seen.

Come home and nurse your babies, they say, don’t leave them as you were left. Yield your body to them and live in the world; grow strong and pretty and nurturing and known: at least feed your children, at least buy their toys, at least find a teacher and a school and a college, see them into their homes, and safe into marriage, this is the least and the best of your fates in the world, but your least and your best I cannot do.

O the wind blows the seeds from the grasses       That rise all across the meadows and fields          and the bluest of flowers blooms for no purpose, the rank water protects the frogs as they hatch and no one takes note except me. I count the bees and am gone.