Frederick Livingston

Ruti began with a reed in each hand.
She wove strands up and down
around and around,
zunguka zunguka.

Her mother was glad
to see Ruti give up her daydreaming
“we always need another basket,
it seems.”

Ruti’s circles grew larger and larger
until she could only hold the edge
and turn her work as she wove,
zunguka zunguka.

Her brother, in passing,
admired her work,
“A fine grass mat
for our cold floor.”

Soon Ruti filled the sitting room
so she had to drag her work
to the courtyard to continue
zunguka zunguka.

Her neighbor saw her outside and had to ask
“girl, what are you making that must be so large?”
Ruti did not pause, but said,
“I am making a basket as big as the world.”

Her neighbor laughed and clapped his hands,
“kakaka! There is not enough grass in this village
or enough moons in your life
to finish such a task.”

Ruti, undeterred, continued to move her hands,
though now the basket was so heavy
she had to circle around it as she wove,
zunguka zunguka.

When her father returned from the fields he asked,
“Aisei, is this what you’ve been doing all day?
Are the goats fed?
Is my bathwater hot?”
Though her fingers began to ache
and the evening was growing cool
she was far from finished,
zunguka zunguka.

After attempting persuasion, threats and commands,
her family woke the village healer.
“She may be possessed,” he declared,
“best we take this nonsense away.”

But Ruti would not leave, no
she continued to weave:
grass and reeds then strips of bark
and bamboo as her supplies ran through.

The next morning a small crowd had gathered
to see her basket,
now big around as a king’s house,
zunguka zunguka.

Finally, one old woman in the crowd asked
in exasperation,
“What on earth can you be weaving, child?”
Ruti replied, “A basket as big as the world.”

The woman, perplexed, pressed Ruti, “Why?”
Ruti said the world was heavy on her shoulders,
she wished she had a basket to hold it.
The crowd then fell to silence

broken only by the bleating of goats
and cawing of crows in their white vests
circling over the valley,
zunguka zunguka.

Then the old woman stepped forward,
took an edge of the basket in her hand,
and began to work next to Ruti.
“You won’t succeed alone,” she said.

“I know,” Ruti smiled,
“It will take every one of us,”

About the Author

Frederick Livingston lives and works across the world in the liminal space between sustainable agriculture, experiential education and peacebuilding. He studied environmental science at Huxley College and recently earned his master’s in Peace and Sustainable Food Systems from the University for Peace in Costa Rica. His poems have appeared in literary magazines, scientific journals, public parks and bathroom stalls. He currently practices and teaches sustainable agriculture in coastal Northern California.