John A. Agandin1
The sun was searing hot and pitiless
Hurling down fuming fierce rays.
The earth roasting under his angry gaze
As meat over blazing coals.
Everything bowed in submission
Men, beasts, birds and beetles
Trees, shrubs and every blade of grass
Drooped in defeat and compliance.
On this sweltering March noon ablaze
Upon a deserted path in defiance
A solitary figure lumbered on.
With a double load over spine and skull
Bent forward with a stern grit
Stumbled and trod on towards
The distant din of a village market!
The loads were of wood and flesh,
Wood for the market to fetch a coin
And a precious tiny baby
Fastened with a tattered rag
Dangling asleep behind.
I stared in wonder at the wonder
Until my eyes watered from looking
So hard and long at the heat waves
Rising from the red-hot path.
A mother carrying her precious son
And a hefty load of firewood
Trudging to the market
To buy salt and pepper
That she may feed her household!
Her man, probably lounging in a bar
Had shoved at her a bowl of millet
With nothing else for soup.
She had gone to the mortar
To thresh that millet with sore palms
And upon her grinding stone
Milled it all into flour.
She went to the river with a big pot
Till all the bigger pots at home brimmed over.
But not before she had swept
All the house and compound,
Mended every crack and crevice,
Scrubbed every cheng2 and chimoin3 spotless
And pounded her rags in the river soap-less.
There she goes down the burning road!
With hardly enough cover for her feet
Which crack and bleed from the fiery rays.
For the journey did not start from home
Though it began there in the morning
When she rose at cock crow for the forest
And tore through thorns and stumps
To gather the precious firewood
That she cannot afford to use at home
But must of need send to the market
So that she can buy salt and pepper
That the children may not sleep hungry.
This little baby boy that she carries
She will feed and cuddle and treat
And blow his nose with her mouth
And clean and cover his lidless rectum
Until he becomes one day a man
To shout and rave and rant at her
And beat her up in drunkenness
To show that he is a man
Living in a man’s world.
She will return down this road again
Jostling with many other mothers
Destined for smoke-filled kitchens
Dimly lit by smoking kerosene lamps
To steer T.Z. for many hungry mouths.
Whilst the men wait upon the rooftops
With peppers and gin in their blood
Impatient to leap upon them
Like locusts upon fresh green saplings
And thrust them full of more little babies.
As I watched her slog on
Down the wearied unwavering road,
It suddenly grew dark and misty blur
I wondered where the light had gone
But as a droplet run down my cheek
I realized my eyes were covered with weeping
Weeping for that fiery revelation.
And I blessed the gods for that hazy noon
That opened my eyes to the light at last…
Hail the women, hail the mothers of Buluk,
Hail the unsung heroines of the land.
Yes indeed they are…
The blood that waters the plains green
The manure that feeds our crops
The donkeys that carry our loads
The wood that feeds our cooking fires
The menders that build our walls
The breasts that nourish our young
The nurses of our aged
The laundry machines
And etcetera without end…
They are the women that make us men
Hail the mothers! Hail!
1Concerning John B.A. Angadin's biographical note, see BULUK 9, p. 70, Three poems
2Earthen ware bowl that usually holds soup
3Calabash bowl that usually holds T.Z.