Poetry: The Dung Collector | clivejames.com
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The Dung Collector

Each morning she wipes the sweat that runs
from under the red dupatta veiled across
her face and lifts another load with a gasp.
Soon, she'll sit with her stupas of dung
and hallow the flies. Soon, she'll pray
each stack into the day's chapatis;
each new vat of dung into a tureen of dahl
to stir above the evening smoke. And she'll
work another hour or two raking the unbaked
yet steaming dung from the mud.
I have seen heifers
given more freedom to wander the earth
than this woman who carries another load
to her wall then chants with the traffic.
She could almost be any
woman humming at a task - moving a ladle
through vichyssoise in a perfumed apartment
off a sunny boulevard; watching light
slip into a room like a spoon into ingredients
for hollandaise sauce while she contemplates
the arrival of guests, the early yellowing
of the alder leaves.
Clearly, though, this is not
about workmanship; not about having a thankful
heart in a beautiful place; not about
being a speck in the slurry of a rushing
Punjabi street, or about a woman who must
save herself by labour and prayers.
It's about a woman who
must live under the anus of a cow as if
it were her star, who must slap dozens of
discoloured moons onto the side of her house
for an orange sun to bake; who hears
the sighs of the world as her bracelets
slip up and down her arms like the songs
of insects in overflowing grass; about
a woman who bends to scoop dung into a dish
each morning with her arms and hands
and looks straight into my eyes.