One woman, one tree.
When Sengalese women
tend their communal garden,
they water vegetables
from a hand-dug well
one bucket at a time.
Their animatrice, their leader, has seven children
but only half a harvest.
As she bends dry dun hands
to cracked ground, the Harmattan wind
peels topsoil and carries
her continent’s cast-off skin,
weightless, many kilometers south.
When the women are given buckets
from their leader to water soil,
feed their children,
they draw a garden,
full, green and fertile
from parched earth.
The animatrice, blowing life
into her sapped disciples,
reminds them their tribe has a riddle:
Where does the dry season go in rainy season,
and where does the rainy season go in dry?
She answers, Into the acacia tree,
evergreen, with pendulous leaves
and silver wattle.
From you, she tells them,
dusting her pinched breasts,
the tree comes; even to him—
our tribe’s chief —the tree is a riddle.
by Donna Baier Stein
Published in Phoebe, from George Mason University