is the winner of the PEN USA Literary Award for Poetry as well as the Peace Corps Writers Poetry Award for The Cartographer's Tongue: Poems of the World. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Alaska Quarterly Review, Harvard Magazine, North American Review, and Witness. She has worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, West Africa, a staff person for Amnesty International, an electoral supervisor in Bosnia, and a human rights trainer in Gaza. She taught at the University of Cape Town on a Fulbright Fellowship and now teaches at Highline Community College and in the Antioch University MFA Program in Los Angeles, California. Recent awards include an Artist Trust Fellowship, the Sojourner Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize nomination.
Her most recent book Cures Include Travel is published by White Pine Press.
Tuareg Tea Ceremony
Republic of Niger
In the desert men drink shots
of heavily sugared green tea.
It's men's work to pour and serve
three rounds of chi-for life,
for friends, and the heart's
The Tuareg wear indigo turbans, robes the color
of sandstorms and scrub brush,
their high cheekbones unchecked by wind-torn cloth.
Achmad slides a spoon of jagged sugar
to his covered lower lip, exposes his mouth
wet and dark and sweet,-a gesture
that's meant to be seen. Relaxed on one elbow,
leaning their profiles into shadow and flame,
the men chat about women
or camel-as if the evening were poised,
the moment ready
to be itself in a photo proof.
By the fire, long and slender bodies
choose angles to emphasize the bend of light.
A woman's eyes journey along one covered thigh,
down a slope of calf and
resolve in perfect ankle.
Dari covets her face,
works mercilessly with his well-trained
and unambiguous grin.
Under the teapot two twigs
criss-cross. The men calmly fan them,
use the back of a sandal, a scrap of animal hide,
insistent that the flame stays alive,
burns hot and slow.
These men of domesticity and fire
eyes underlined in blue kohl-
are serious about the ceremony of tea.
As I am in stitching sorrow to desire.
Saidou drops his veil to drink,
then passes the sweet wet leaves
to the younger boys and they eat.
from the Cartographer's Tongue: Poems of the World
Buffalo: White Pine Press, 2000
© 2000 Susan Rich
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