Her Head by Joan Murray
in Natal, South Africa,
a woman carries water on her head.
After a year of drought,
when one child in three is at risk of death,
she returns from a distant well,
carrying water on her head.
Explanation …. Drought has ravaged the settlement named Ekuvukeni in the province of Natal in South Africa. Life has become gruelling, especially for the womenfolk who have to bear the brunt of the unkind Nature. As wells and water bodies have dried up in the parched land, a woman has to walk long distance to fetch water from distant wells. She brings the water by keeping the pail on her head. One such woman has attracted the author’s sympathetic attention.
The pumpkins are gone,
the tomatoes withered,
yet the woman carries water on her head.
The cattle kraals are empty,
the goats gaunt—
no milk now for children,
but she is carrying water on her head.
Explanation ….. The means of livelihood for the inhabitants of the area are nearly destroyed due to lack of water. Vegetable plants like pumpkin and tomatoes have shriveled, unable to survive in the parched earth. There is no respite for the woman. Water is indispensable for life. So, she continues to haul water on her head. After all, making life’s bare necessities available for the family members is her job.
The engineers have reversed the river:
those with power can keep their power,
but one woman is carrying water on her head.
In the homelands, where the dusty crowds
watch the empty roads for water trucks,
one woman trusts herself with treasure,
and carries water on her head.
Explanation … The authorities have blocked the flow of water, so that hydroelectric power plants have enough water to generate power. The privileged folks living in the upstream areas are much well-off. Life in the downstream areas has become a real grind. People wait for water trucks winding their way in the mud tracks. As the vehicles rumble ahead, dust flies all round. A pall of dust descends on the thirsty folks waiting for the water trucks. The woman in the author’s attention has no option to pause or complain. She trudges on with her load of water on her head.
The sun does not dissuade her,
not the dried earth that blows against her,
as she carries the water on her head.
In a huge and dirty pail,
with an idle handle,
resting on a narrow can,
this woman is carrying water on her head.
Explanation …. Undeterred by the scorching Sun and the blasts of dust that buffet her along the way, she lumbers on carrying the large old pail on her head.
This woman, who girds her
with safety pins, this one
who carries water on her head,
trusts her own head to bring to her people
what they need now
between life and death:
She is carrying them water on her head.
Explanation … Water is the lifeline for her family. So, no matter how hard it is to carry it, she brings the water pail on her head. Her neck is girded by safety pins. She relies on her head to carry the load of water. She considers it her foremost duty to ensure her folks do not suffer thirst, and perish. So, she does not demur to do the grueling work of fetching water.