“Somali Shopping for Organic Figs” by James Tate

James Tate


I was walking out of the health food store
and into the parking lot when something powerful
and strange stopped me dead in my tracks. A woman
dressed from head to toe in a black veil, a bui-bui,
I believe it’s called in Arabic, stood stock-still,
alone, tall, only her eyes showing, but oh what eyes,
like bits of onyx set in virgin snow. A panther would
have been less shocking than this woman. Everyone
who saw her just stopped and stared. Normal manners
didn’t seem to apply to this situation. She was
the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and yet,
I saw nothing but those eyes. Perhaps she was stricken
in terror. Children walked right up to her and stood
staring in awe. It felt like some tremendous mistake.
But maybe she was only dreaming, and we were dreaming
along with her. It was a cruel dream, the kind that
changes you forever, and waking from it was strictly
forbidden. Her bui-bui was made in Heaven, the blackest
corner of it.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002

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