She tells me about harvest in the mountains of Kashmir
in the family fields. They all help, sons, daughters, cousins
in their shalwar kamiz, cutting the wheat with sickles.
The sons and male cousins thresh, banging the wheat
to loosen the grain. She shows me the motion with her
arm, bending like this… And her beautiful grandmother did it this way too,
raising five children alone, with the bounty of grain,
though the worthies complained she paid men with oxen
to plough her fields. Men who weren’t family.
She ground the golden grain with stones, turned by an ox,
gathering flour for roti and nan, to see through the winter.
Stalks were chopped and stored for the cows.
Nothing was wasted. The earth slept under the snow,
where the leopards left prints of their visits,
tormented by hunger. The five children shivered in beds
But the beautiful grandmother sold her spare grain
and spare cows in the markets. The worthies found fault
with her uncovered black hair; she threatened to break their legs.
The grand-daughter has tears in her eyes in the Wallsend flat.
The neighbour above bangs on the ceiling
and her daughters have no-one to play with.
She tends coriander and mint in a small plot of garden.
In Spring, I’ll plant spinach she says.
If they are allowing me still to be here.
– by Pauline Plummer. This poem was Commended in the 2016 Competition.
Pauline was born in Liverpool but has lived in the North-East, since 1982, where she has raised a family and earned her living teaching creative writing. She has several collections of poetry, most recently, Bint (Red Squirrel Press 2011), as well as a verse novella From Here to Timbuktu’(Smokestack Press 2012) and a collection of short stories Dancing With a Stranger (RSquirrel 2015). She is also a cook and an editor with Mudfog Press. Pauline has a website at www.paulineplummer.co.uk