by Olga Dugan
For JB and Sherry
Some moments fall over us
like the blue, lavender, jade,
and everlasting-brown blankets
of Middle Eastern skies at dusk.
Lunch time. My civilian relief
unit made our way into the war-
worn city with bottled water,
rations, even candy. Children
chased the dust from our truck
once we stopped for distribution.
That’s when I saw her. A little
girl. Barefoot. Burlap dress
hinging her dusty frame. Black hair,
wind-danced, aging her cheeks.
A hungry look, but dignity regaling
brown eyes. She stood only a few
kicks of sand away, so I stepped out
to meet her, boot to toe, on the brink
of peaceful exchange. Returning
her smile, I offered a bag of sweets.
Through a wide yawn of invisible
fence: Here, I promised, got gummy
bears, sour patch kids from the States.
Speak English? Get nothing but
a shaking head. Okay, candy you
eat like this . . . She imitated a
universal language; pale lips going,
“O.” Her face bloomed petals
of smiles. Here’s more; it’s okay.
Only took a minute of this bone-
dry day under the sun’s relentless
attack to register the candy
rainbow crashing against her fist.
Why not reach for it? Why plunk
ruddy fingers into a pocket, draw
out a little fist she turned palm up
to reveal a pebble? But the sandy
bauble began to match her eyes.
That dignity. She was offering a
piece of land for a rainbow and
its promise. We both ate well, I
wrote in a letter to my husband
and girls back home, still full
on the gravity of our transaction.
Now, at sunset’s dancing glow,
calm sweeps dunes into a thinning
slit of horizon; it’s Thanksgiving
at my house on the other side
of the world. But a year into my
tour, I don’t feel the same longing
I had before. No, hitting my bunk,
I forget even war; rotted ovenbird
diminishing, not nourishing, our ribs
like the choice fare of human kindness
the little girl and I shared that day
at a table otherwise set for enemies.
About the photographer: Pat Tompkins is an editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her essays and poems have appeared in The Bark, Thema, Modern Haiku, and other publications.