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Women and the Global Imagination: Girl

by Ucheoma Onwutebe

In our Winter 2014 issue Alicia Ostriker curated a poetry portfolio on Women and the Global Imagination, and we were so struck by its contents that we wanted to keep the dialog surronding this theme going on our blog. In her essay, Ucheoma Onwutebe uses Jamaica Kincaid's prose poem "Girl" as an inspiration for her own meditation on the advice girls receive. We hope you enjoy reading. To read more on this theme, visit our store and buy or Winter 2014 issue (print or ebook), or become a subscriber to Prairie Schooner today. To take part in the dialog, follow and interact with us on Twitter.


Girl (After Jamaica Kincaid)

Avoid boys. Avoid those boys whose hands never leave their groins. Do not eat at the neighbours' place. But if you must, do not eat like you are enjoying the meal lest they think your mother is a bad cook. Do not play with those neighbourhood urchins raised on goat milk. Stop eating so much, you will put on weight. Put a bowl in that corner where the roof leeks. Throw a pinch of salt on the earthworms to kill them. Make eba with very hot water. This is how to haggle with the tomato seller. This is how not to haggle before she throws tomato water at you. Squeeze lime over snails to take away the slime. Did I hear you begged those children for biscuit? This is how to shave your hairs. This is how to fix your pad so you won't leave a trail of blood in your wake. But I did not beg any body for biscuit. Always carry a shower cap in the rainy season. This is how to know a man that would take care of you when you marry him. This is how to know a man that would stop giving you money once you've married him. This is how to know the one that would become a he-goat and turn you to a fishwife. Do not accept gifts from unknown men. This is what to take to stop menstrual cramps. Have I not warned you to stop reading ashewo magazines under candlelight? Stop peeping through the neighbours' window to watch adult films. This is how not to reduce your bride price. But I do not read asehwo magazines under candlelight. This is how to chew gum in public. This is how to fart in public if you can't help it. This is how to dance in a ceremony without dancing more than the celebrant. At 28 you are still busy doing ashebi for others, where are my grandchildren? But you said I should avoid boys. You mean to say at your age you do not have a man in your life?


Ucheoma Onwutuebe is a Nigerian writer whose works have appeared in LitMagazine, Australia, Sentinel Nigeria and other national dalies. She blogs at www.ucheomaonwutuebe.blogspot.com.