Handwriting

A poem illustrating the day to day chores expected of girls.

For Awa and Ansel Saine

By Meghan Gannon - Peace Corps Volunteer, The Gambia (1998-2000)

I’m watching the world
erase the shadows it's spent
the whole day drawing, you
stacking sticks in strict
patterns, blowing through a conch
of fingers, coaxing smoke.
I pour rice in this
sift-bottom basket, comb
for mites, for grain
dark in its husk.  Lines
of laundry criss-cross
the compound, rows of onion
tufts mark the garden
you spent the dry season
watering. I’m learning
how hands train to a task:
precise beak of fingers
cocked to constant gauge, picking
a lice-sized pile; wide clasp
of hand for driving a pestle
down in the mouth of a pounder;
coil of fingers for pulling
up rope from deep wells.
How many chores line
your grasp like a glove
of muscle? How many days
did it take to forget the pencil-
thin grip only a school-girl
knows? Tomorrow,
when you’re practicing
alphabets, when I’m watching
letters untether in a hoop
of loose fingers, pencil gyre
over lines of crabbed characters,
remind me how much of this world
is written in your sure hand.


This poem was selected as the winner in the returned Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. It was selected from more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.

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