Road to Lake Malawi

Lori Gravley

The roads are barely paved
then gravel, then just dirt, unrelenting
and kicked up through
cab windows. Our driver
says he’s from the Lake
two hours outside the city
and stops to hug his sister.
Everything along the road is corn
green and upright in the sun.
Puffy white clouds sway overhead.
It could almost be Ohio,
home, but for the women we pass
their wooden hoes slung over shoulders
bags wrapped and balanced atop their heads.
And I said women, but many are girls
walking so upright I sit taller in my seat.
At the beach resort, there are no plows
only wood carvings and waiters in crisp suits
and on the beach dugout boats with fish
some still flapping against the boats
resisting the air. I photograph the boys
who’ve brought in the catch,
and I photograph the fish
and the miraculous boats
still holding the shape of their source
like the memory of some straight tree.
The boys balance wide legged
over the edges, only the fish ride inside
crowded one against another
on the bottom. Our driver chats
with first this fisherman then the next
and we don’t know Chichewa
so we don’t know that
he’s bargaining for fish
until he pulls the rope
and lets the five he’s picked
dangle against his thigh.
He holds it away, but still
some wetness finds its way
to his khakis. I wonder,
for a moment, if there’s a cooler in the trunk
if he’ll beg ice from the resort.
We find a little shop
just outside the grounds
and pose with carved crocodiles.
When we reach the taxi,
an aging Corolla, we find the fish
slung over the driver’s side mirror.
I wonder if he’ll close the windows,
but on the long trip back to town
the window stays down though I cannot
smell the fish, only, once in a while,
I see the tail twitching in the wind
the fish gliding against the green
of the car door, their mouths
open in the evening air.

Antioch Writers’ Workshop 1st Place Adult

about the author
Lori Gravley writes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. She earned her MFA from the University of Texas at El Paso. She has published poems in a variety of journals, recently including I-70 Review, Burningword, and Crack the Spine. She travels the world for her work as a USAID consultant, but her home is in Yellow Springs, Ohio. You can hear her read her own work and others’ on Conrad’s Corner at WYSO Public Radio ( You can learn more about Lori at