November 9, 2009

Rachel Webster

HOW DID WE COME TO BE THE ONES WHOSE FEET ARE BEING WASHED?

Cassandra’s beside me at the nail salon, getting
the dark parts of her feet sanded off.
Liver troubles turned my soles white, she says,
then pitch black, and I want to get them back
to normal before summer comes.

I ask her if it hurt, losing feeling
where she touches ground,
and she says, not too bad.
I stayed on them every day at work,
but that was just God, lifting the heavy bags.
Vietnamese women razor-scrape
our heels, rub soap over our insteps and toes,
while Iraqi girls, suspended on the TV,
enter, shyly, their first school.
Uniformed in wool,
they stand at scrapwood desks,
while outside, in the desert
knots of flame tear open a Hummer,
burn to sludge steel,
ankle, sand and stomach,
and the network’s jumping
back and forth, between
the girls dutiful at their work
and the truck exploding,
and Cassandra says how beautiful
the people there are. How now
they will never not be afraid.
We choose our colors.
The other women bend
to our feet, and we go on talking
produce, recipes, the best way
to pencil an eyebrow.
I look hard into every face
coming through security,
she says,
because I don’t ever want to see again
what I saw then—people jumping to their deaths
to escape their deaths.
Can you imagine
having to know a thing like that?

–from Rattle #27, Summer 2007