~ after “Target,” Paula Rego (1995)
There are many like her where I’m from
—thighs solid as trees, calves thick
and ruddy from walking the hills, hitching
a child on one hip while carrying a market
basket or stirring a vegetable stew. She
knows 25 varieties of rice, how recently
coffee beans were roasted by the slight sheen
of oil they leave on her palms. Don’t under-
estimate her or her means: whereas she can take
your measure because she dropped every spare coin
at the end of the day into an empty sardine can.
Who but her could dream of a place of pride
among iridescent scales and slick orbits of fish
guts in the wet market? Or an empire of cloth, rows
of stiff triangles awaiting inspection? Quill, snake
bone, or silver: only these can do or undo her hair.
On each ear, hoops of gold chime their ancient worth.
What she sleeps next to is always of her choosing.
Hand that closed around a broom or the handle
of a blade, the same hand that hummed a cradle.
She loves her favorite dress, scrolled in silver
and blue on white brocade. You may help but
only with the buttons down the back. Now no one
undresses her but her; or looks unless permitted.