The Ballroom

by Christopher Conlon (Botswana 1988-90)

This poem won the 1994 Moritz Thomsen Award for Best Short Work about the Peace Corps Experience.

Southern Africa, Kalahari Desert

She is the perfect image of a rag doll
I saw when I was a child, in a trash can,
dirty, ripped abandoned:
here in the Kalahari is that same
doll, maybe five, eyes huge, legs
white with desert dust.
Ke Kopa madi, sir, ke kopa madi.

Money: I shake my head no, no madi:
try to move on. But she stares at me,
suddenly transfixed.
No longer begging. Her eyes
wider than before.

My sunglasses:

I crouch down,
she approaches me, nose to nose,
tattered, filthy, she stares at me,
at herself.
Then her hand moves to her chin
and she says Oh, in a tiny,
surprised voice. She rubs away
the dried spittle there.

Then she turns and,
whitened heels kicking up dust
like marble, dances away,
dignified, satisfied,
a tiny queen
in an endless ballroom.

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