Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In Ethiopia, a poem by Ilie Ruby

Ilie Ruby's debut novel THE LANGUAGE OF TREES (Avon HarperCollins) was published July 20, 2010. Ilie grew up in Rochester, NY and spent her childhood summers on Canandaigua Lake, the setting for her novel, a place imbued with Native American spirituality and natural beauty. She is the winner of the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction, chosen by T.C. Boyle; a Kerr Foundation Fiction Scholarship; and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Achievement in Fiction. Ruby is also a recipient of the Wesleyan Writer's Conference Davidoff Scholarship in Nonfiction and the Kemp Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship. She has published short stories and poems in literary magazines, worked on PBS archaeology documentaries in Central America, taught 5th grade in Los Angeles on the heels of the Rodney King riots of 1992, and has worked as a fine artist. In 1995, she graduated from the Masters of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, where she was fiction editor of The Southern California Anthology. Ruby is a painter, poet and proud adoptive mom to three children from Ethiopia.

Puberty in Poverty: In Ethiopia
by Ilie Ruby

There are barefoot girls everywhere, backs stacked with sticks, who have learned
to lean forward into the brittle sunlight as they walk, as if it were a blessing
That the sun should be favored just because it lights up the road ahead, and a boy,
just because he is born

All those female faces thrust into the light as the sun breaks across their backs
like glass as they keep walking uphill, licking the air clean of dust, their eyes
darting away when met, as though caught surviving,

Lips caked with clay, teenage boys saunter by, unyielding, shirtless in ripped shorts,
barefoot, up the streets and back and back again, all day, tongues clanging, the color of
chalk, arms looped around waists, shoulders pressed together, under the sunlit glare, bare necks and backs and arms and eyes glisten and burning, glowing, darker, deeper, they call out to a girl and she calls back in an almost triumphant flirtation, mainly for living this long, for having breasts that sway, for hips that flex in brightly colored skirts

Wherever you go in the world, there is laughter and adolescence in poverty,

Boys will turn up wherever there is a girl who is laughing, they will lean like sticks
against the mud walls of a little store where a girl smiles as she re-fills Fanta into bottles of muddy river water to sell, caps pounded back on with her bloody fists,

But there in the back, beyond that skeletal fence of cows, her small sister is standing
at the broken window and howling at a burning sky with fury,

she is learning she must push into this life, open mouth pressed to cracked glass,

I think of the time you and I swam across a warm blue ocean, before
that mountainous wave rose up, the one that changed everything, we held hands in its shadow, you promised me that much, as its frothing tip remained unseen until just before it broke over us

And as it tore me away and I tumbled, my body crashing against the sea floor like a delicate shell, all I could think was that you had let go of my hand, and suddenly that little girl came to mind, why a person might learn to press into a deadly wave or a blistering sun or a love lost,
mostly in order to survive it


intheknow said...

Written by one of the most amazing people I know!

evf said...


Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I concur, folks. This poem is really beautiful. And Ilie is amazing!

Diane said...

Tugs at the heart, that girls live and smile, undefeated, in the midst of so many unrelenting obstacles. You've captured it.

buckeyemike said...

Wonderful poem. Love the images!

Beth Hoffman said...

I loved this poem and the accompanying photographs!

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