They Shout Out the Price of Salt


They shout out the price of salt harvested from salt flats;
they travel to far distances on dusty roads
as they go in their caravans over long trails
carrying thick staffs.
The life of these salt merchants seems a good one to me.
Her curly hair tossing,
the dress of shoots she wears to ornament her wide, soft loins
swaying with each step,
she cries in every street,
"People of the town! Salt is as cheap as paddy!
Will you buy some?"
"Listen, you with your belly curved and arms supple as bamboo,
you did not tell us the price of the salt of your body,"
I said, standing a little away.
Her anger showing in her large, red-lined eyes blackened with collyrium,
she said, "You, over there, who are you?"
And innocent,
very lovely,
she moved off a little,
smiling,
her few rows of white bangles flashing,
taking my heart with her.


                                              –from The Classical Tamil Anthologies
                                                Tamil; trans. George L. Hart III


Ammuvanar, Tamil, trans. George L. Hart III, Poets of the Tamil Anthologies: Ancient Poems of Love and War, 1979, Princeton University Press.