In this triple-baked continent
women don’t etch angry eyebrows
on mud walls.
Patiently they sit
like empty pitchers
on the mouth of the village well
pleating hope in each braid of their mississippi-long hair
looking deep into the water’s mirror
for the moisture in their eyes.
With zodiac doodlings on the sands
they guard their tattooed thighs
Waiting for their men’s return
till even the shadows
roll up their contours and are gone beyond the hills.

The poem is about the infinite patience that the Indian women practice in their lives while they go through a triple-baked suffering at the hands of the sun , sex and poverty. The continent refers to the Indian subcontinent with a long history of political and historical upheavals and a highly patriarchal society structure , in which women are the most oppressed lot. They do not etch angry eyebrows on mud walls,because within homes their status remains that of passive receivers of others’ angry emotions .Within the walls of their homes they are also the passive receivers of male love without their own participation , being bound to preserving their chastity for the men who consider them as their private property.

guarding their tattooed thighs”-tattooed probably refers to the name of the male owner etched on the thighs to indicate ownership. Juxtapose this with the angry eyebrows not etched on the mud walls. Not etched on the mud walls indicates a family situation in which only the patriarchal male elders have a right to raise eye-brows and have them etched on the mud walls. Angry eyebrows etched on walls indicate power of the male over the female who has no such power to get angry with anybody. The female has only the duty to preserve the sanctum of her femaleness by guarding her thighs against possible intruders. The guarding is done not for herself but for the man whose name is tattooed on her thighs to indicate ownership.

Patience is the virtue most cherished in our women.

“patiently they sit like empty pitchers on the mouth of the village well”

A beautiful image that at once evokes the typical Indian village woman who spends much of her time like an empty pitcher on the mouth of the village well. Firstly , it is the woman who fills the home’s water pots by trekking long distances to fetch water for the family. She herself sits on the mouth of the village well like an empty pitcher waiting for her turn to collect water. But the water there is just a trickle and is not deep enough to reflect her image with her eyes filled with tell-tale tears. She is only pleating her long (Mississipi-long) hair in braids of hope.

‘With zodiac doodlings on the sand” is a highly evocative image of a typical Indian woman who scrawls zodiac shaped figures in the sand with the toe of her foot while she lowers her shy eyes, thinking of her man who is away beyond the hills. She will wait for him there till even the shadows roll up their contours and are gone beyond the hills. A beautiful image.

Some interesting usages :

etching on mud walls

Mud walls indicate poverty , a condition which does not affect the women alone but all the members of the household. But the man can etch his eye-brows on the mud walls and the women cannot.They are the recipients of the anger flowing from the male eyebrows. Etching indicates a slightly raised letters/figures , an egocentric status.

Triple-baked :

The harsh sun makes the woman trek long distances to bring water.In the process she is herself baked like the pitcher. She sits long hours like the empty pitcher on the village well’s mouth waiting for her turn to drop the bucket down the well to collect water. She is triple-baked -by the sun, by her conjugal duties (letting her man to extort love from her), by the excruciating poverty of her family. The other meaning probably is that with her husband away she has become the target of the village gossip: “on the village well’s mouth”

Doodlings on the sand:

A beautiful usage. The woman is probably unlettered but can doodle on the sand with her toe, idly waiting for her man ,while her eyes are lowered in female shyness.

Till even the shadows roll up their contours and are gone beyond the hills:

Exquisite image. It is now dusk and all the women have already left the well for their homes. The shadows have vanished and the sun has sunk beneath the hills. The woman is still waiting.