Your Own Palm

O, my daughter, once I was a poor boy
folding peppers into my sarong 
to walk three miles to sell, but what
can you tell me of sorrow, 
or of the courage it takes to buy
a clock instead of a palmful 
of rice to go with the goat 
we can’t afford to slaughter?
Look at the lines Allah etched
on your own palm: you have
a big brain and a good heart, 
still, you don’t use either enough! 
Once, I walked through a war 
beside my brother parallel 
to a gray river. Why do you care
about the few damp bills
I didn’t give to our mother?
Or the clock I bought to take apart? Well, 
I left that country with a palmful 
of seeds I’ve thrown across
this dry, hard Texas. Allah
has blessed me with this vine
that coils upward. I care
so little for what others say, ask 
your mother. That nose ring
doesn’t suit you, by the way. 
Once, you were small enough 
to cradle. There was a coil 
in that clock made of metal . . . O, 
that something so small can matter . . . 
                        No daughter, I 
don’t need a glass of water. Look, 
this will grow into maatir neeche aloo. 
In the spring, you see, its purple leaves
will be the size of your own palm. 
In the village, there is a saying: 
“Dhuniya dhari, kochu pathar paani.”
I don’t know where the clock is 
or how much it’s worth! There was 
not enough for kerosene . . . why 
do you always ask what can’t be answered?

Copyright © 2017 by Tarfia Faizullah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘Dhuniya dhari kochu pathar paani’ translates loosely to ‘individual life is water gathered in an upturned taro leaf.’ According to my father, the kochu leaf is oily and slimy, which means the water cannot and will not stick to its surface. If there is even a slight wind, the water will fall or disappear. I love this idea of life as an element in constant movement, free fall, or temporary respite in the shelter of a leaf. In this poem, water is also the life force that helps a potato grow in adverse conditions, a beverage offered by a daughter who loves her father, and the river road that leads a curious young man and his brother away from a brutal and bloody war toward the strange and glistening potential of a freer life elsewhere.”
—Tarfia Faizullah