The Rice Fields

By Zilka Joseph

Miles of them grow in my carry-on
and travel with me across continents

but the customs officers are suspicious
they eye my old suitcase and ask me to open it

Pickles? they ask sniffing deeply
prodding a packet or two
say Sure ma’am you’ve got no jeera or chilies?
(now they’ve learned the Hindi word for cumin
so the new trick is to joke with us) And one time

I saw three burly officers question
an elderly couple disheveled
as I was from 20-plus hours
of travel from Kolkata
and as disoriented (and yes
as usual all the usual “foreign” suspects
are sent along to “Agriculture”) and
they poked around in their overstuffed bags
(where some rice fields appeared but
they couldn’t see them of course) and

one officer said Duck? Bombay Duck?
It’s a fish?? Dried fish your son
wanted? Sorry no fish allowed
or birds (The officers looked
at each other again and again:
expressions priceless) So another time I land

at Detroit airport and I shake my head
at the silver-haired officer
say Sir, no, no pickles meat or cheese
I buy them here at Bombay Grocers
and Patel’s (give them a sweet Colgate smile)

Yes, yes, sweets, only made of lentil No dairy, no dairy
The red-gold cardboard boxes of sweets he can see
but not the rice sprouting beneath
the young green shoots
No our rice fields he will never see
we carry them wherever we go

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