Red Dress

her little fingers were pleating
transparent scarlet paper,
fashioning a skirt
for a one –armed Barbie,
her tongue stuck out,
concentrating,
the hot granite slabs beneath her,
covering the trickle of human refuse
that ran and ran
all day long;

around her the traffic wove
poisonous patterns,
honking staccato overtures
to impossible dreams,
under the blinking lights,
the doll dressed up like a washed out tart
on borrowed time,
holding the plastic figurine,
the child laughed;

until the lady
rolled down a window,
a fiver stuck between her rings,
the toy surprised, arching high
over the debris of urban incontinence,
the money in her tiny palm,
her eyes on the girl
with silver ribbons
who peered from the back seat,
her little nose stuck to the glass,
her red dress falling in scalloped waves;

barefoot on a hot granite stone,
over the waves of the city drain,
the traffic finding impossible
paths around her,
concentrating,
her tongue stuck out,
staring through a rectangle
of transparent glass,
the child laughed.

For Dverse Poets where the prompt asks us to borrow one line from “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye. I chose the line “transparent scarlet paper”
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44 thoughts on “Red Dress

  1. The city is relentless in playing out the urchin’s want as it rubs and burns against the ash of privilege; it is an urban song played on night’s harp when the city is unsung, undone.

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      1. Naomi Shihab Nye is an interesting choice. Poetry magazine is the poetry establishment. And like the New York Times, I find it intriguing how it co-opts the native Palestinian voice in crowding out the themes that are intrinsically Palestinian: that of exile and justice.

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      2. Mahmoud Darwish is ‘the’ poet of exile. But he wrote in Arabic and I am not sure how much is lost in translation. Who to read among contemporaries whose voice remains relevant is a burning question. I stumbled upon http://www.splitthisrock.org/ recently, but it gets tiring after a while. At the end expression should be nothing but joy, and I feel only a critical understanding of power allows for that kind of unfettered expression. But we live in scoundrel times (to quote Eqbal Ahmad), and poetry, like life itself, suffers.

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      3. Have put both on my “to read” list.. it is a wonder isn’t it that living in relative insulation and quiet, we manage to write anything at all…expressing joy seems farcical and screams have no premise.

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      4. My insularity has been subject to incessant puncturous invasion of late 🙂 With the consequence that joy though distant remains not only possible, but the only thing worth writing (and screaming) for 🙂

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  2. I admire the creative direction of that one line from Naomi ~ A sharp portrayal of the girl in the midst of urban incontinence, and also a vivid contrast of wealth in that car ~ And by the way, I have seen that poverty up close specially during traffic stops ~ Good one Thotpurge ~

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  3. While reading this I thought how interesting that the child in the street seemed oblivious to what was going on around her except for her delight for her beloved doll. It’s amazing what one can become accustomed to when you have no choice. Excellent, Rajani…I really enjoyed this.

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  4. Just like ‘transparent scarlet paper’ seems almost a contradiction in terms, you have used this contradiction to provide the contrast between the haves and have-nots – and hint at content and discontent as well.

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  5. Those first 6 lines remind us that all children have that same love of imagination and play. I had no idea until the 7th and 8th line that this was a child who lived in poverty – you painted her picture very well.

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  6. Poverty is always the elephant on the sidewalk, that we get used to, & too often do not focus on–but how could we not see it each time we pass it? Perhaps too painful, too frightening, too real. You touch on significant themes here, thanks.

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