Poetry Fiction 2009

Boy

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Audio: Hear the poet read this poem aloud

They called me “boy” in Kashmiri,
Because they had no other word for what I
Appeared to them to be. Taller by a half foot,
Gawky in my rolled jeans and cap—they

Chose to look away from my small breasts and
Voice-lilt and rename me in the lexicon of sex.
The shikari—mysterious, wizened, in loose turbans—
Were our guides, up the mountain and through

The wall of white water. They linked arms with us
And waded us through to the high still pools above,
Where we’d cast for trout. They stepped in and out
Of Allah as we climbed, in sun and shade, singing

His name. We were miles above Srinagar and two
Hundred miles from China, and the finned bodies
Were swift under the surface. The shikari pointed:
“Budd gaard-e! Big fish! Then they murmured

Their one word for me, and it was not “sister” or
“Daughter.” I was Naked Face, twenty-seven, a rebel,
I thought. Therefore they made me their oversight.
Had they not looked away from me as they spoke,

Had it been otherwise, they would have heard it,
Above the peaks—the clear unwavering call, a
Command to rip my cap away, to pick up stones.
To separate my face from my face, stripping the

Veil from a hook of air, holding it over my breath till
I gasped like a fish, till I was a pair of eyes on a plate,
That body the world wishes to both savor and destroy.

Carol Muske-Dukes’s recent books include her seventh collection, Sparrow (2003), and her fourth novel, Channeling Mark Twain (2007). She is currently the poet laureate of California and a professor at the University of Southern California.
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