MUSLIMS AT THE BEACH
On the ferry to Langkawi, a Malay girl in jeans
rides on deck, letting her head scarf slide
down her hair until the wind takes it.
On the island, a woman hikes up loose pants,
kick-starts a scooter, head scarf flowing out
below her helmet. In the beach cafe
a waitress, head wrapped in white, smiles wide,
mixing mai-tais at the swim-up bar.
It’s a shock to see the woman in the chador.
She’s a black tent, an enormous crow,
a question mark, a Rorschach blot, a wall.
“Not from here,” a Malay matron hisses.
“Maybe an Arab state.” The next day it’s 93 degrees.
She sits in her beach chair in that chador watching
the waves. Tiny jewels frame the slit that shows
her eyes. Her husband’s hand snakes along
her shoulders. What does she think of her bright sisters?
What does she think of me, crossing the strand in shorts
and T-shirt to wade in warm, shallow water? I stare at her,
and she stares back. Without a face, her dark eyes
tell me nothing. Slowly she lifts the veil that hides
her mouth, takes one small taste of orange juice.