Her Head

By Joan Murray b. 1945 Joan Murray
Near Ekuvukeni,
in Natal, South Africa,
a woman carries water on her head.
After a year of drought,
when one child in three is at risk of death,
she returns from a distant well,
carrying water on her head.

The pumpkins are gone,
the tomatoes withered,
yet the woman carries water on her head.
The cattle kraals are empty,
the goats gaunt—
no milk now for children,
but she is carrying water on her head.

The engineers have reversed the river:
those with power can keep their power,
but one woman is carrying water on her head.
In the homelands, where the dusty crowds
watch the empty roads for water trucks,
one woman trusts herself with treasure,
and carries water on her head.

The sun does not dissuade her,
not the dried earth that blows against her,
as she carries the water on her head.
In a huge and dirty pail,
with an idle handle,
resting on a narrow can,
this woman is carrying water on her head.

This woman, who girds her neck
with safety pins, this one
who carries water on her head,
trusts her own head to bring to her people
what they need now
between life and death:
She is carrying them water on her head.

Joan Murray, "Her Head" from Looking for the Parade. Copyright © 1999 by Joan Murray. Used by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Looking for the Parade (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1999)

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Poet Joan Murray b. 1945

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Money & Economics

 Joan  Murray

Biography

Joan Murray was born in New York City and lives in upstate New York. She is the author of several collections of poetry. Praising Dancing on the Edge (2002), a reviewer for The Times (London) noted, “Her simple lyric tone unteases the complexities of the images which move her.” Working in free verse, Murray is a master of the single, unforgettable detail. Her accessible, image-driven narratives harness the urgency of their moral . . .

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Poems by Joan Murray

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Money & Economics

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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