Susan H. Evans




Naszia holds dishes under the cold-water tap.
With veiled eagerness,
she asks, “Go to the beach with me, Ma’am?”
and smiles widely when I say yes.
Over the dry ruts and around stagnant puddles,
under teak and coconut trees,
past gated houses, and chickens pecking in the grass, she holds my hand.
Her eyes shine when she whispers, “You are sexy,” and squeezes my hand.
What she means: Your skin is white; your hair is straight.

The brown ocean flows under the white sky and foams at water’s edge.
On shore, fully-clad groups of men and women watch me
with blank, unblinking eyes.
Their dripping children run, and kick up sand.
We wade to our waists; Naszia’s timorous hand clings to mine.

Later, we wrestle the rusted gate latch open.
Arnel’s dachshunds bark shrilly, slink off,
and lie down in the house shade.
I load my arms full of dirty clothes, but Naszia shakes her head,
gathers my laundry in her arms,
and straddles a child’s yellow plastic chair.
Tepid water gushes from the garden hose.

Sprinkling grainy powdered Ivory soap,
she scrubs hard with her rough, calloused hands.
On string lines under stunted yellowing palms,
we pin my shirt, green top, and gray shorts.
Naszia’s strong hands move surely; my white ones fumble.

I give her what I can — only a little American money —
but in those dark eyes, a trickling windfall in her open hand.
The fingers of her husband in Cebu will carefully
pull the tightly-wedged dollars out of the mailed tampon tube.

One October morning, I say, “I’m going home in three days.”
Naszia softly crumbles, and hot tears trail down her face.
I give her a flared skirt from an ukay-ukay bin and a straw hat.
She runs and fetches a small smoked glass bottle,
and places the offering in my hands.
Its throat is tied with a gray string and a dangling silver bell.
A cork stopper reads “Happy Sabbath.”

Now in the spell of memory and imagination, I see
as through darkened glass,
a broad sandy road under a white Asian sky,
Naszia’s gentle, calloused hand
enclosing mine.

But clasping her other hand —
in her dark-skinned, other hand —
the god of us all
gently guides us both down the path
towards a wide blue sea.