Thick wrists cinching fingers
by which the slow pestle turns,
the girl tries to grimace away
that old woman poking her piety
at the girl’s resistant arm, murmuring
into her still youthful ear,
“You may always be poor,
so you might just as well get good
at it, girl.”
Still, the girl pounds spice into dust,
black iris eyes tearing at careless fate,
staring into the darkened room, away
from the table before her:
black bowl of dead fish, rigid with their living eyes,
matching plate of shelled and shiny boiled eggs,
a painting of Jesus and servile women hanging in front of it all,
somehow reflected in the ancient mirror behind her,
and the little she can add with what she serves from stone,
piling up like sand from an anthill.
Were she of a different class, she might
ask why she has been sent here. Were she
of a different time, she might rebuke her bonnet.
Had she the constitution and not that flushed-faced paralysis
of the young, she might just rip the seams of her sackcloth
wrappings and cast them into the bewildered fire,
eyes of the old woman roiling towards the heavens
as she asks what has become of the world.
--Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Thank you, Clare, for reminding me of a powerful source for poetry, and for linking to this poem! The painting is here, but perhaps you have had the pleasure of seeing it in person, in which case, I am envious.