Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Kaneshi Market

My white face drifting through this sea
Of black and friendly faces—shouting “Oburuni!” faces
(They’re shouting at me, the hot crowd;
They know I’m rich, wealthy enough to buy
From all)—is not as strange as my Western clothes
And my Western ways that would pay the first price

They ask—if I didn’t know better—didn’t know the price
Is twice or four times any of these bartering sea-
City natives would pay. In their brilliant kabas (traditional clothes),
Bare or sandaled feet, they call with open faces,
“Madame, papaya here—oranges—Come and buy!”
“5000 cedis only!” call the brash crowd.

Piles of shrimp—tiny glistening amber-colored shrimp—crowd
The long concrete blocks—their price
More than the copper-burnt newspaper-wrapped fish I sometimes buy
Only for the dog. But these don’t know; it is better that they not see
They revolve in a world of smells that make me squirm—their faces
Happy in not knowing air conditioning or sanitation. My clothes—

American-bought clothes—stick to me in the black-asphalt heat. Their clothes
Are light and easy. And the piles of fine fufu flour crowd
The coarse banku below black beaming faces
And butterfly hands pulling me in. “We give you good price,
Oburuni!” they say, offering twist-tied see-
Through bags. “No—no, thank you, I don’t buy

Today,” I say, in their way, pull away, quickly pass by
The tables of chicken feet laid out red and gawkish; gaudy clothes—
Purple tunics and bolts covered with orange cowries; giant sea-
Shells and wooden elephants for the tourist crowd;
Hawkers waving toilet paper—“Three for this price!”;
“Malt crackers!” “Apples!” cry the slick bobbing faces.

A woman’s calabash rides high above the faces
Balanced by one ebony arm. I stop her to buy
Boiled peanuts neatly stacked. We don’t haggle over price.
She tips some into a newspaper cone, then, her clothes
Swish away and mingle with the crowd.
And all that’s left is a black, heaving sea.

And suddenly I see the individuality of these faces
Sharpening into focus from the blurred crowd. I eat peanuts, one by
One. These clothes, they weigh me down. That kaba, what is its price?

©2000 Deborah King

I wrote this in undergrad poetry writing class. The form is called a sestina--notice how the final words of each line are repeated from stanza to stanza.

Read more poetry here

Friday, October 24, 2008

Psalm 16

Preserve, O God, my weary soul;
My place of refuge be;
Thou art my Lord; my soul shall find
No good apart from Thee.

Thy holy servants in the earth,
In them is my delight—
I love Thy saints who worship Thee,
The noble and upright.

Pursuing any other god
Will end in grief and shame.
I will not bring them offerings
Or call upon their name.

My portion is the Lord Himself;
My lot rests in His hand.
How pleasant and how beautiful
Is my inheritance.

I bless the Lord who counsels me
And guides me in the night.
Shall I be shaken while He stands
Before, and on my right?

No, I shall rest secure in Him;
And death I ne’er shall see!
Rejoice! for to the grave Thy God
Will not abandon Thee.

For He to all His holy ones
The path of life will show—
I, in His presence deepest joy
And pleasures e’er will know.

©2006 Deborah King

On the Birth of My First Nephew

Joseph Michael King Jr. born Mar. 10, 2000

“He looks like her,” my mother says,
“Six-pound-small-thing, naked and new;
But like her about the mouth—“Is he?”
I ask—redundant—picturing blue

Blinking eyes squinting red-faced;
And voices saying “beautiful” so
Many times he thinks it’s his name.
“It wasn’t so very long ago

I felt him kicking out across time
To touch me.” Remembering, I twist
The telephone cord around my thumb
And count the days I will have missed

Before I meet him—son of brother
And friend. “Grandma,” I say to make
My mother laugh—and she does—and calls
Me “aunt.” I ask, “How long did it take?”

“Twenty-four hours of labor and pain
And weeping—but weight that against the calm.”
After the call I slowly rub
The branded footprint on my palm.

©2000 Deborah King

Blue Fire

Your reserve
And steady eyes
Together serve
To make me wise—

Inside, you too
Burn with fire
As cold and blue
As Vega in the Lyre.

©1999 Deborah King


The never-ending ache at last be stilled?
Or shall I never feel the burn of pride
Or bite of hate or weight of sickening fears?
Or shall my soul flow free at last of tears
And never water yet another prayer?
Shall longings hardly utterable be filled?
What broken spirits on my courses lie—
And shall they yet be healed?
Shall troubled smoke lift from the battlefield
And n’er again the noise of combat there?
Shall I the general of the desperate side
Command the victory flag be hoisted high—
Tear down the barriers of war, my men!
For I shall never, never sin again.

©1999 Deborah King

A Song for Two Burmese Children

They are the dark brown stare of dust and rain.
They are small Solomons among the young.
They are the pulsing of forgotten coals
Caressed and stirred by winds strange and unseen.
They are the lost ways; They the narrow track.
They are the slap of bare and toughened soles
They are the gleaning of the blight and lean;
A brazen fellowship of reckless lack.
They are the silence of my foreign tongue;
They are the distance of my shadow-line.
They are my refuge from the world of men;
My heart that shrivels at the taste of pain.
They are the song that calls me back again.
They are the waiting fields. And they are mine.

©2005 Deborah King