"I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing." - John Cage

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ability of Response

by Karen Terrey

One is not much larger than the other
in the New York Times photo:

on her hip the old Bedouin carries
her teenage son everywhere
“it is exhausting”

She is not old she has ten other children she wears black
against the blowing desert sand.

The son clings
he will burn himself cut himself he feels no pain
his left leg is amputated.

When she finally puts him down
how long will he survive?
“I cannot stand it”
says the man who leaves
the room.

It is not that simple

She married her cousin
forging strong family bonds -
rare recessive disorders make their way
to the surface. Footprints
of custom in the desert.

Simple Mendelian genetics;
lids concave across the rims,
the dip of a tablespoon,
children born eyeless.

The eyeless nomad’s response:
choose a wife by her DNA
“genetic testing is good”


How do I fit into the picture?
I do not know
if I am the same age
as her. I have no children
and wear corduroy
to Starbucks. I can only contrast:

I turn off my alarm clock and roll back under the covers
she lifts her son from the ground
I heat up my car
she carries him

Circle what is similar
and hidden between us:

what do I carry


Nov. 4 2004
after I heard the election results
I threw out the moldy food in the fridge,
cleaned the closets,
packed up the deck furniture for the winter
under the house. I stored
my anger away -
in the spring I didn’t bother with it.

She carries him.

My dissent
is an artifact, wind
across the surface of the sand.
I was almost an anthropologist.

The Bedouin woman’s dissent
“he is glued to me -
I support testing”

She carries him.

Will I pick up my anger,
carry it tiringly?


The ability of response:
each morning
picking the son off the ground,
carrying him
until exhaustion at sundown.

Does that mean she’s happy?


Fill in the telescoping space
behind the Bedouin woman in the photo
with a television, a kitchen, Cosmopolitan:

my coffee maker cost $100 dollars
my coffee; $9.95 a pound
That is nearly $647 for the 65 pound boy.


Perhaps it was all a mistake, centuries
of marrying first cousins,

not gravity

but in her case,
the gravity of who one marries.

Can custom be valuable only as an absolute?

A faith in nothing
is unerring freefall

At 4 am naked
we both turn towards a body,
the Bedouin woman and I,
like someone else’s dream or the memory
of many nights alone.

Hairs rise
reaching out to the other with the static
electricity of almost touching:
the ability of response.

Originally published in Moonshine Ink, March 2007

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