Aid Worker Report, Tondo, Manila, the Philippines, 1995
Sherry Weaver Smith
Glinting easy to find
aluminum and tin in hot sun
cast the same glare each day.
She picks them,
pretends they are princess silver,
but she really takes them for her family
Then in this pit
of what people have thrown away,
she finds bits of paper,
no white space for her
At the trash's edge, other kids
swim in the dull brown bay.
She looked there yesterday for silver fish,
and couldn't find her reflection.
Last week she found some cloth
covered in Christmas trees.
No forests here, but she wanted
half for her
half to sell.
She cut around each tree.
The jagged edge
preserves every printed branch.
She's tied it on her back,
and inside, the last-month treasure,
baby doll, blond hair, blue eyes, one permanently
closed. Although the doll resembles no one in her family,
she still tends to its imagined cries.
Today in a tire, an orange rubber ball.
Later she will tell me of her plan:
Hold it tight, closed fist, then open like a sun,
slowly on a hot morning.
When her little sister reaches,
she will let it fall
into her smaller hand.
I want to give her a true gift,
because nothing in this place
equals who she is.
I have some food from Jollibee,
what else, remember that flower
from the market…an unfamiliar
scent, some kind of jasmine. Unsure,
I hand her the stem.
She says she already knows
that flower. As she tucks it in her hair,
she tells me its name, sampaguita,
and hers, Maria.