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portraits of red and grey #19 by James Morehead

July 3, 2011

portraits of red and grey #19

by James Morehead

for one day we have run out of postcards to visit
we wander without watches
or schedules
through the shops and streets of alma-ata
sidewalk chefs feed us greasy rich deep fried onion treats
a candy cart offers us chocolate licorice cookies
                                                                            and vodka
a steamy market free of five year plan prices
families bartering fiercely
foreign words fly past me
i clutch my rubles tightly
                                      feeling the eyes of traders
eyeing me closely

i am overwhelmed by fish and fumes
and step out from the market's canopy
onto a gravel street
i leave our guide's watchful glare behind

dull rippled aluminum roofs
peek over a hill
i walk through blowing dust
and the aluminum roofs change to paper thin houses

our bus tour of mosques
missed this sewery sprawling shanty town
nervous and guilty
i gawk at poverty
feeling eyes at my back and my side from thin wails

two young girls chasing each other
break through my nerves
their lightly brown faces
smile and laugh
they are tossing a ball back and forth
across gravel
the smaller girl stretches
                                       and reaches
the ball flies over her head
                                           onto my feet
i pick it up
                offer it
shyly she reaches
                              and grabs it

they run away waving
a story to tell

a few feet farther
a voice calls out from the darkness
and turning i see
an arm shoot from a doorway
fearless ( maybe foolish )
i walk over and into
a dark shanty doorway
and stand face to face
a young kazakhian before me

he's my height and thin and tugs at my jean shirt
i notice behind him ( his parents i think )
a man and a woman
a thick stack of rubles
tight in their fists

i look in his eyes
his young dirtied face
i take off my shirt
                             and stretch it out to him

his head shakes and scribbles
on a scrap of newspaper :

40

i look at it ( ready to barter )

50

i write
in large simple digits
he turns and in conference replies

45

happy i circle it
he smiles and nods
rubles in my hand and a shirt on his back

Next in portraits of red and grey…

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