Wednesday Poem

Bird of Paradise

At dawn my mother stands on the hill
behind our house
and invokes the sun to rise
then she goes to the outdoor kitchen
and prepares tortillas and cocotea for our breakfast

My mother sells fruits and flowers in the market
stuff she grows with her own hands
she does not solicit customers
they come to her of their own volition
and at the end of each day
her items are all sold out

Now at age 42 my mother decides to stop having children
but not because her blood has ceased
“I have peopled the world with the numerous men
and women that my body has birthed,” she says
“now it's time for me to birth other things”

At times my mother's back and feet grow tired
so I anoint them with coconut oil
her feet is a detailed map
her back is the starapple tree outside our front door

My mother has never travelled abroad
but she knows tales of everyland
she says the flowers in her gardens
especially the ginger lily, orchids,
and the bird of paradise, bring her such tidings

My mother is short in stature
all her children tower above her
some do not even want to recognise
or acknowledge her as they pass by in the marketplace
they are ashamed of this fruit and flower woman
this woman who fed them milk and tortillas
that made them so strong
sometimes they mock her
“she looks like something out of a Rivera mural,” they jest
but my mother does not hear
her ears are beyond their words.
In the evening when she grows weary
my mother sings lullabies to the sun to entice it to sleep
so the dark can come and we all be rejuvenated
“It's in the darkness that we grow strong,” she tells us

How wise she is
this woman with a life that no one can capture
how essential she is
this woman who makes gardens flower
and who feed us milk and tortillas
I watch her as she descends the hill to the marketplace

her skirt at her knee
her black hair flecked with grey

by Afua Cooper
from Understatement: An Anthology of 12 Toronto Poets
Toronto: Seraphim Edition, 1996.