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By Grace Paley

This is about the women of that country

Sometimes they spoke in slogans

They said

       We patch the roads as we patch our sweetheart’s trousers   

       The heart will stop but not the transport

They said

       We have ensured production even near bomb craters   

       Children let your voices sing higher than the explosions

                                                    of the bombs

They said

       We have important tasks to teach the children

       that the people are the collective masters

       to bear hardship

       to instill love in the family

       to guide the good health of the children (they must

       wear clothing according to climate)

They said

       Once men beat their wives

       now they may not

       Once a poor family sold its daughter to a rich old man   

       now the young may love one another

They said

       Once we planted our rice any old way

       now we plant the young shoots in straight rows

       so the imperialist pilot can see how steady our

       hands are


In the evening we walked along the shores of the Lake   

                                                of the Restored Sword


I said   is it true?   we are sisters?   

They said   Yes, we are of one family


Grace Paley, “That Country” from Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley. Copyright © 1999 by Grace Paley. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, http://us.macmillan.com/fsg. All rights reserved.

Source: Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000)

Poet Bio

Grace Paley was one of the most accomplished and politically active figures of the past fifty years. Born in the Bronx, she studied under W.H. Auden, though she never graduated from college. She married in 1942, had two children, and was separated within ten years. This separation caused her to return to writing and in 1959 she published her first short story collection. Though she did not publish another collection until 1974, her reputation grew, not least because of her activism with groups such as the War Resisters' League and Woman's Pentagon Action. Though known mostly for her stories, she published three collections of poetry, which often contain the humor and economy of language that mark her prose.

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