“Two Women in a Yurt, After the Quake” by James P. Roberts

For Dr. Jatinda Cheema

It is eerie, the silence that follows once the ground has finally settled.
Displaced rocks roll to a stop and the trees slowly subside their almost musical sway.
Startled birds nervously resume their plaintive song.  It is over now.  We are still here.

Outside the yurt standing alone on the level plain, Mongush
Has calmed the skittish horse while young Sadip looks on in aloof disdain,
Arms folded across his thin chest.  Both are wearing winter garb: Bearskin
Malgai with ear flaps, a thick nekhii parka, trousers, knee-high boots.

Beyond, in the distance, snow-covered mountains sprawl beneath a blue sky
Scattered with puffs of fleecy white clouds which merge with plumes of snow
Blown off the highest peaks.  The baby girl, Samyan, cries loudly in her wooden crib.

The yurt is undamaged.  A teardrop-shaped four-string tovshuur hanging
On a wall peg remains intact.  The inner rim of the yurt roof is decorated
With bright orange and blue designs, a parade of mandalas circumscribing good fortune.
A prayer wheel spins around and intricately patterned rugs carpet the floor.

Two women stand ground in the middle of the yurt.  The younger woman, Namesh, hides
In the background while her mother, Suunyu, gazes steadily forward, her seamed face hard
As granite. It is evident there has been a quarrel, still not ended, only delayed
By the earthquake.  It will resume once the men have departed.

This is a land of earthquakes: voices of gods.  An old land where mountains loom
To dizzying heights, then fall steeply to be swallowed in trackless deserts.  Stories
Told at night in the smoke of burning yak butter candles.  One looks up and feels
The immensity of stars, blazing like the pitiless eyes of angry deities.

The women are cautious, rife with knowledge handed down through generations
Of the fragile relationship of things.  Centuries of secrets form in their eyes and worn faces.
Beneath the traditional dresses they wear are hard bodies sculpted by wind, sun, and toil.
Strong, ridged hands create tools, cook day and night, hold crying babies.

These women even an earthquake cannot destroy, they simply endure.

James P. Roberts has had four previous collections of poetry published. Recent work can be found in Mirror Dance, Gathering Storm and Bamboo Hut.  He lives in Madison, Wisconsin where he hosts a radio poetry show, ‘A Space For Poetry’, and has a passion for women’s flat-track roller derby.

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