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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 8: June 2021
Poem: 155 words
By Penelope Moffet


—Woman in a red chadri with caged birds on her head, Afghanistan; Thomas J. Abercrombie, 1968*

She’s wrapped entirely in red 
with just a little mesh through which 
to breathe and see, her right arm 
held before her like a pleated wing 
echoing the sand dunes 
rippling out of focus. 

I pull red cloth 
across my face, nose to chin 
hidden beneath thick pleats, 
eyes cloaked by plastic lenses. 

Birds perch inside 
the cage upon her head, 
a salmon-throated male 
hunched down, a female 
poking her dark beak 
outside the wire. 

My face concealed, 
sometimes I feel freer 
looking out with 
no one looking in. 

Inside the shroud 
she may be still, she could 
be sticking out her tongue, 
she could be singing to herself, 
she could be cursing, 
casting spells. 

I laugh and growl, 
talk to myself in whispers, 
hiss at those who piss me off, 
make faces at the world and sing.



*Publisher’s Note:

Woman with Birdcage, Afghanistan appears in the book Odysseys and Photographs, which focuses on the careers of four Nat Geo photographers, including Thomas J. Abercrombie. The following quotation was reprinted in that book from the September 1968 issue of National Geographic magazine, in which Abercrombie described his iconic photograph this way:

“Denied face and form by age-old custom, a woman of Kabul secludes herself in a sleeveless silk chadri; a pair of Old World goldfinches rides home from the market on her head. Reflecting the forces of change at work in the land, Afghan law no longer requires the chadri, whose pleats echo a style of centuries ago.” (Retrieved on 22 May 2021 via the link above.)

For a larger view, click the following link and scroll down to Image 1 of 10:
10 Incredible Images Of Women From National Geographic’s Archive

Penelope Moffet’s
Issue 8, June 2021

most recent chapbook is It Isn’t That They Mean to Kill You (Arroyo Seco Press, 2018). Her poems have been published in Natural Bridge, Permafrost, Pearl, The Rise Up Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Verse-Virtual, The Missouri Review, and other literary journals, as well as in a number of anthologies. She lives in Southern California.

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