The Other Side

Dilruba Ahmed

(on a painting by Gauguin)

What brings you to the clearing?  Our fruit,
our flesh—is it as you imagined?
Ah, but the fruits you paint are brighter, bigger
than any we find here, the blooms more bold
and varied.  This tree, not so dark as black-
skinned avocado; more like green young breadfruit.
Sweeter in the mind than on the tongue, as they say.

Do we seem untroubled?  Do we seem pure?
I know what the others say:  that you left
in Copenhagen a wife, one child
for each finger on your hand.  That your hands—
which now, with care, place an urn
in my palm—once bloodied her face.  Or twice.
But who am I to judge?  Lounging here all day
with the others, clustered like tree snails.

And her flesh, her face—is it as you thought?
You know she doesn’t like that dress, the one
with blanched banana leaves flanking her neck—
that collar—see how stiffly she sits. 

When your boat first approached I thought
a white bird was rising from the water—at a distance
and in the sun, it seemed a great chunk of salt
to wipe away my mother’s fever.  Everyone said,
here comes another, this one with a brush
instead of a book, or rope, or whip.




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