1. Lawn Mower

An old man squats,
knees apart,
sickle in hand,
saws grass one handful at a time,
thumb guiding the sickle,
big toe leading his foot,
inching forward,
tuft by tuft,
no fumes, no whirr of engine.
patting down the grass
as if it’s his grandson’s hair.

Later, he’ll wash his calluses,
pop water-filled blisters,
press down skin as he did the lawn,
and begin again.

The garden must be verdant,
bellies full,
grandchildren growing
with the grass.

2. Sweepers

They dance all day as their mothers did,
young girls in whirls of saris
swirl dried leaves
with short, stiff, cane brooms,
sweeping forward to the right,
forward to the left,
forward to the middle,
in flurries of color,
glass bangles tinkling,
toe rings glistening,
uncovering red earth
which is not their own,
on which they do not walk.

3. Fisher Woman

See how she walks the streets,
wide woven basket on her head like a hat worn inside out,
one arm reaching up to steady the day’s catch,
glass bangles jingling as she swaps hands,
every few steps,
not caring if her hair smells of fish.

See how she arches her head,
one arm reaching to block the sun,
looks up at high rises,
at people in their balconies
deaf to her sing-song cry.

Fish – fresh – fish
Machee – Thaja – Machee

She knows her man,
what he needs,
and in what order –
food first,
then fresh washed hair,
and sometimes the other way around.

4. Planters at Dusk

In rice fields, rows of inverted U-shaped shadows rise, stretch arms and straighten backs like ballerinas, twisting waists, first left, then right and left again.
Stiff from planting and patting rice saplings, the women look at the sky, now gray-blue. Chased by breeze, cotton candy clouds sweep their sari palloos into balloons. They turn to each other, burst into chatter, the long day’s silence shattered.

Slowly, they walk to dryer land, wipe their feet, break out in twos and threes, set out for home, looking back ─ one long last look ─ as shadows drown their day’s work.

Still, work’s not done. There’s rice to boil, lentils to spice, children to bathe, men to serve, and only when the pot is scraped, each warm oblong grain gone, dishes washed and beddings laid, will they stop and taste the stars.