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Outsider, 1990
Jan Duncan-O'Neal

The women in their black gallibeas
wait for commuter trains in Cairo.
They seem to know exactly where to stand
apart from the men in white robes,
so they will board the Women’s Car when
a train screeches into the station.
Their golden brown faces
damp from June’s intense heat
recall tomb paintings’ deep color
preserved from kingdoms long past.
I cannot see their heads, the shape
of their bodies swathed in cloth layers,
these anonymous ones
unlike females I have met in other places.
They giggle to each other
like shy girls but they are wives,
mothers, clinging babies on their hips,
carrying baskets of pita and pomegranates,
looking a-la-tuul, straight ahead,
for the next train to come.
In my white linen dress,
blonde hair blowing in the wind,
I have never felt so conspicuous,
the invisible woman they will never know.
This poem first appeared in Kansas City Voices (Vol. 9. 2011).
Used here with the author’s permission.


A long-time children's librarian, Jan Duncan-O'Neal told stories to children and did workshops nationally until her retirement ten years ago. Soon after, she turned from writing educational resource books to creating poems. Much of her poetry is narrative, influenced by her storytelling background. "Poetry challenges me more than anything else I've ever done," says Jan. "To have some of my work published has been a high point in my life." The feature poem in her chapbook, "Lost Voices," was a Pushcart Nominee. Currently an editor for I-70 Review, Jan lives with husband, Bill Duncan-O'Neal (who proudly shares this double name), in Overland Park, Kansas.

Post New Comment:
You were not of their culture, but universally feminine.
Posted 06/17/2013 05:23 PM
Ginny C.:
"The invisible woman they will never know" How many people in how many places have felt that way? It makes the poem universal.
Posted 06/17/2013 04:19 PM
Donna Pflueger:
Jan, your sensory poem immediately took me there to experience a vivid glimpse of another culture and your last stanza left me with a powerful truth. Thank you.
Posted 06/17/2013 02:26 PM
I wonder if you could buy a black dress, or whether white was some kind of statement to avoid subservience to the men. Either way, lovely poetry.
Posted 06/17/2013 06:13 AM
Those feelings that both unite and separate us as women...What a wonderful expression of that.
Posted 06/17/2013 05:02 AM

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