By Brian Minalga - Peace Corps Volunteer, Niger (2008 - 2010) and Namibia (2010 - 2012)
The last loaf cools on the rack.
I reach, but her snatching hands are quick,
rigged with veins,
knobbed with knuckles.
She’s scrubbed iron with steel wool,
snapped chickens’ necks,
sliced umbilical cords.
Tjirumbu wants brown bread!
she cackles with mad wisdom.
Everyone looks at the white
foreigner. She straightens her spine
inside seven layers of patchwork,
a dress she sewed
out of rival scraps:
fish scales, paisley, vines, daisies.
She’s rolled a newspaper,
stitched it into the same crazy fabrics,
twisted it into horns she wears on her head,
declaring pride in her cows.
She tells me of times
when black skin, white skin
stained the desert red.
She speaks of laws so deeply superficial--
how they hacked off her hair
for eating white
bread. Between us she holds
the loaf the color of her skin,
digs hard fingers into its crust.
she says, splits the loaf in two,
you take the larger half,
presses hot bread into my hands.
For now we know
eyes sparkling like minerals in a cave,
white bread humors the heart,
brown bread makes it strong.
This poem was entered in the returned Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. The contest received more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.