In Lieu of a Photograph

The ephemeral nature of living in another country.

By Jordan Weinstein - Peace Corps Volunteer: Senegal (2012-2015)

I am no good at photography.

I lack the necessary subtlety–I am too literal.
I shove the lens right into the center of my subject,
Like a punch to the gut,
Causing the context to crumple around it.
But I sat once at close of day, looking up at a bridge where
Women, silhouetted against the setting sun, made their graceful ways home carrying
Great buckets and baignoires on their heads.
You will have to imagine, I'm afraid, the way their dark bodies were made darker in relief
And the herd-like elegance–not of mindless association,
But natural interconnectedness–of their movement.
A familiar noise made the baby look up from the mat where we were playing.
I followed his gaze to find my sister framed in the doorway, the sheer curtain fluttering between us.
She was folded over a calabash bowl of rice,
Making the starch-laden rinse water cascade across her caramel-colored arm
With the routine grace of a ballerina at the barre.
There are some–employed by National Geographic, no doubt–
Who could have captured the beauty of this moment–
The way the early-Fall light made everything jewel-bright–
With a single "click" of a camera shutter.
But I am no good at photography.

This poem was selected as a finalist 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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