“How Much Do You Weigh?” by Jill Kandel

Jill Kandel


A question asked often by old men or young, friends, strangers
on the road. How much? I didn’t know how to answer. Certainly
not a question you’d ask of a woman—not in America where
I’d come from—but common in the village where I lived, deep 
in the Land of the Lozi, people of cattle and sand. Zambians 
living twenty miles from Angola. Twenty miles from civil war. 
Tins of cheese from the United Nations, vividly marked Not for Sale 
gathered dust in our nearly empty market. Exorbitant price. Unobtainable.
When a fat campaigning politician came slick to our village, 
gaunt mothers with emaciated children gathered and pointed, astonished. 
Admired his weight as if wealth. Look! He can eat and eat, 
more than enough! What to make of a man who is fat? Unimaginable 
fantasy to anemic mothers with brittle-boned children, bellies swollen
by hunger, legs weeping with sores. What a relief just to eat not defeated
by dry empty fields, crops gone to dust. Such ease to eat and eat
what you please and not stop. How much do you weigh? No longer
unseemly, no longer a goad. Compassionate. Tender. Driven by hunger,
rendered by need. A question which reconfigured might just as well ask,
do you have enough? Have you eaten today? Will you sleep hungry? 
Tell me. How much do you weigh?

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022


Jill Kandel: “I grew up in North Dakota and married a man from the Netherlands. We spent ten years living and working abroad in Zambia, Indonesia, England, and Holland. I began writing poetry as a way to play with words and intensity. I wanted to condense my writing into something tighter and brighter. I love the journey into poetry. It’s just about all I read these days. My four children have moved out of the house and I find myself needing to write about time and motherhood, past and present. Regrets. Hindsight. Love. This poem goes back to the time when my first daughter was born, in a small village in Zambia on the edge of the Kalahari Basin. I lived there for six years.” (web)

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