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102nd Weekly Poetry Contest honorable mention: On Thirst

by Jonathan May

Poised above their heads, the hue of sky itself,
liters of water sashay in the buckets the girls carry.
They walk for hours, the little girls, on sandals
made from old tires, black on pink underbellied feet.
They must not stumble, for they’ve walked five
kilometers already, five more to reach the huts.
Love does not carry them, their mothers do not carry
them. The girls, their noses stinging with dust, sneeze
and for a moment, terror reflects like clouds
in the water of their eyes. They stop, steadying backs
straight so as not to fail, not to turn back, mud
drying around their toes. At last—they reach home,
mothers stay rooted at their weaving, babies crawl
inside the huts along the polished cow-dung floor.
Boiling the water, the girls take turns sipping,
it is so hot, but they are thirsty. Ten kilometers thirsty
for this. They must boil the water. They see their sister,
clutched stomach, black flies crawling all around her.
Buzz and buzz, weaving patterns around her, waiting
for their children to hatch beneath her skin.

(Originally appeared in One, Issue 5)

102nd Weekly Poetry Contest