The maize is not growing
in Mozambique where the power plants
are sparse, and the roads stretch 
unencumbered by electric lines,
where the heat runs its own electric grid,
under the red earth of the fields,
a scorched circuit of hunger
sparking and crackling among the roots.

The maize is not growing.
The sweat pools behind our knees,
in the crooks of our elbows;
our skins slide against each other like fish,
like lightening, the moisture of our efforts
mocking the dry night hanging breathlessly
outside the drape of our mosquito net.
We are rain makers, curanderos. We are magic.

But the maize is not growing,
and the children gather at the well pump
where the drops shimmer in their fingers,
and a small girl passes on the street
cupping a handful of rice.  I decide it’s a game –
not dinner for her body, brittle and shrinking
like the cornhusk dolls I cannot make for her 
because the maize is not growing.

Alice Pettway is currently teaching with the Peace Corps in rural Mozambique. Her work has appeared in various journals including The Connecticut Review, Keyhole, The Bitter Oleander, Crab Creek Review,  Lullwater Review, The Mid-America Poetry Review, Plainspoke, Women’s Voices for Change and others. Alice’s chapbook, Barbed Wire and Bedclothes, was published by Spire Press, Inc. (New York) in summer 2009, and she is a former Lily Peter fellow, Raymond L. Barnes Poetry Award winner, and two-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

This poem was written shortly after I arrived in Mozambique. There is a great sense of helplessness that comes from watching the heat wither the earth and the people around you. The people in my village call the dry season the time of hunger. The time when you dream of rain.



Copyright 2009