After having taught middle and high school English for 32 years, Marianne Peel is now nurturing her own creative spirit. She has spent three summers in Guizhou Province, teaching best practices to teachers in China. She received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal (2003) and Turkey (2009). Marianne participated in Marge Piercy’s Juried Intensive Poetry Workshop (2016). Marianne’s poetry appears in Muddy River Poetry Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Jelly Bucket Journal, Comstock Review, Gyroscope Review, among others. Marianne was a finalist for the Naugatuck River Review Narrative Poetry Contest (2020), and she was longlisted for the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize (2021). She received first place poetry prize in Kentucky’s Chaffin/Kash Poetry Contest (2021). Further, she received third place in Comstock Review’s Muriel Craft Bailey Contest (2021). She has a collection of poetry, No Distance Between Us, published in 2021 by Shadelandhouse Modern Press.
A Gift from Zhino, the Kurdish Translator
at Kara Tepe Refugee Camp
an orange tabby
darted out of the shoe room,
scrabbled over my feet.
and exited out of the back of the tent.
In the shoe room,
she had given birth to five kittens
and throughout the day
in between refuges seeking shoes and clothing
when translations from Farsi or Urdu or Arabic were silent,
the mother cat clenched her newborns
around the scruff of the neck
teeth sunk in just enough to secure the hold
and carried them out into the field behind the shop,
one by one.
By noon, she burrowed a nest of kittens in the long grasses.
There, the song of the mourning doves lullabied her babies to sleep,
eyes closed tight, secure and unafraid,
Mama feline standing guard,
ears pricked for intruders.
And that morning
I had no shoes to offer
the family from Syria.
Had only flip flops three sizes too big
for the husband
clownish shoes, good only for
seeking a laugh
from a choreographed stunt or fall.
And I had no maternity underwear
to offer the wife
whose belly swelled beneath her burqa.
And I had no hijab to offer.
The head coverings plastic bin was empty.
She desired a deep green hijab
with gold threads.
Wanted to drape the fabric
around her face, bring the green flecks of light
out of her eyes.
And I had no football shoes for the daughter,
who showed me how her left foot
was stronger than her right,
kicking an invisible soccer ball with one foot
then the other.
And I had no socks for the baby.
Toes cold before the morning sun
even the rocks
at the roots of the olive trees.
On that morning,
I was bursting with no
in answer to everything this family needed.
My mouth was full of I’m sorry
and this is all we have
and I wish I had more to give you
and I’m sorry your feet are hurting
navigating all the rocks in this olive grove.
exposed feet spilling onto crooked rocks,
unable to gain balance.
I could not keep my eyes from crying.
So many I’m sorry’s tumbled out of my mouth.
And on that morning
Zhino, the Kurdish translator,
brought her mother into the shop.
Wanted to show me this matriarch
who had clutched the side of the raft
with all her strength and stamina
as they crossed the treacherous sea
between Turkey and Lesvos.
And on that morning
this matriarch would lay on a gurney
while the surgeon carved a tumor
out of her brain.
And on that morning
Zhino asked about the mascara dripping down my cheeks.
Wondered why my eyes were swollen red.
I told her of the I’m sorry’s of the morning,
how I had no shoes
that fit the feet I held in the palms of my hands.
It was then Zhino put her hand
on the small of my back
and guided me to the back room of the shop.
She pointed to a loose knit grey sweater on the floor,
right beneath men’s Arabic dresses.
This is my crying place, she told me.
This is where I come when I need to cry,
when I cannot stop crying.
I will share my crying place with you.
That next morning
I found the kittens huddled in a nest of grasses,
next to the olive tree.
Eyes open just a little, letting in the light.
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Poetry in this post: © Marianne Peel
Published with the permission of Marianne Peel