Outlined against the fields,
inevitable as landscape,
a kerchiefed woman and a donkey
trudge the dusty path, to where
they fight the stubborn earth for food.
Anchoress, she treads her daily silences,
mantras iterating on her children;
she knows no joy in exercise of muscle,
spread of sky or shades of green
on ten-mile tramps each way.
She fills the bag suspended from her shoulder
with twigs for kindling, dandelion and sorrel,
and cuts the donkey’s fodder from the pathside
to stuff the sacks which press against his flanks;
she would not dream of riding him.
When they reach their hard half-barren patch
she pulls the weeds out from the wheat,
clears a space around the beans, then sits;
other headscarves dot the panorama –
one with her, yet utterly unknown.
When sun is hot it scorches them,
when rain is pouring they get wet;
every day the same but Sunday
when she prays for strength from Him
Who made this grand design and drew her in it.
Responsive to the brushstroke of the air,
she feels the varnish drying on the day:
they set off on the backward trail,
his hooves clicking, her boots scraping –
rhythms marking off the hours.
©Virginia Rounding, 1996