This is another poem dedicated to a beautiful woman, but it also reflects on the nature of beauty itself. What makes this woman beautiful, the poem asks.
She is described in a beautiful term as compared to the cloth on her face. She has “undulant” grace two words that bring the mind back to the exotic and beautiful dancers of her region. Her step is like a dance and grace implies light, beautiful and filled with skill. Even the brown cloth that covers her face is beautiful in its movement upon her.
The poem describes her graceful skill as she navigates the ugliness of the world around her, “garbage, excrement and crumbs of glass.” Her figure is erect in this place that is low. Even the poet stoops in this place as he watches her. He implies that this place has made him low, despite the fact that he most likely comes from privilege. “I… reflect/they stand most straight/who learn to walk beneath weight.” He is not standing straight, and his reflection implies that he’s never had to – this is not his world but hers.
She contrasts this ugly world, by staying beautiful despite its weight upon her (“not a ripple in her tread” – ripple is a world that also implies a beautiful motion, but connotes a small motion caused by the motion around it – and that motion around her does not touch her). And that is a skill that requires grace.
by Jon Stallworthy
Barefoot through the bazaar,
and with the same undulant grace
as the cloth blown back from her face,
she glides with a stone jar
high on her head
and not a ripple in her tread.
Watching her cross erect
stones, garbage, excrement, and crumbs
of glass in the Karachi slums,
I, with my stoop, reflect
they stand most striaght
who learn to walk beneath a weight.