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by Sharmagne Leland-St. John

In Ascalpusalco
I remember mostly
their dark eyes,
their round, brown faces,
Mexican bowl haircuts,
and then
the outstretched, dirty palms
on the end of spindly arms,
tiny hands
with ragged fingernails.

In Welligama
they encircled us,
their dry, cracked lips, begging
for a twopence.
"One two piece, one two piece,"
they chanted,
clad mummy-like in rags,
gray from the mud of streets,
the filth of poverty,
their smiles engaging.

I have seen them in Cairo,
near the City of the Dead,
where the deceased "live" better
than the living,
hauntlingly beautiful children,
maimed, crippled, scarred
by their parents
in order to elicit pity,
hence silver and copper coins,
from the rich American tourists.

In Lima, in front of the Cathedral
which held the catafalques
and Pisarro's tomb,
a gypsy woman tried to hand me
a baby, pleading,
"Un regalo, un regalo."
As I reached out for "her gift,"
you held me back.
"Don't take it," you hissed.
"She'll run away."
I stood there,
in the shadow
of the basilica,
in sombre half-light,
in the cobbled streets
of this foreign city,
my barren heart,
my fallow womb
needing the baby,

But you pulled me away.


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