Modesty – by Barbara Howerska

Across the road, I often see
the woman in the veil.
In truth I know
she’s much like me,
the same concerns,
the laundry,
the grown up kids.

I’ve seen her smoke a cigarette
outside the back door
evening time.
The lines converge
when strangers look
into our eyes,
each choice is never made alone
beyond the judgement line.
The burqa and the Sunday best
church bonnet,
women’s bodies fight the line.

So when the plunging summer dress
is battleground refined,
“you’ll not be going to the bar
to get the drinks this time”.
We’re back to lines of modesty,
each choice is never really free.
The burqa and the Sunday best
church bonnet,
women’s bodies fight the line.



Barbara is a member of the Beehive Poetry group in Bradford, West Yorkshire. She has performed poetry in Bradford, Haworth and Wakefield, as part of literary and arts events.

3 thoughts on “Modesty – by Barbara Howerska

  1. This is a thoughtful poem expressed very simply, which I admire. There is a great deal that could be explored in this subject (for example, I feel uncomfortable about the implications and consequences of the burka, but you make a telling point about the exchange in the bar) but your poem makes its points cleverly – and incidentally shows how poetry can go to work. I especially treasure that line “each choice is never really free”. That’s sad to any of us schooled in the Western tradition of individual liberty and value. Perhaps it would not seem remarkable however to earlier centuries in Europe, nor to most societies around the world even today where social conformity and obligation to others takes precedence – often at terrible cost to half the population. Forgive this long comment – not as succinct or engaging as your poem!


  2. This is a remarkable poem, with lines that quietly explode because they are bursting with allusive meaning. I love the way the opening metaphor of division is carried throughout as is the idea of convergence. Complex ideas are packed and distilled so eloquently, ‘ beyond the judgement line…women’s bodies fight the line.’. I read this this morning and thought about it all day. Watch out world, there’s a new poet in Town.


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