My Mother’s National Geographics
because my heavy mother, the neighbors joked,
sat nose-pressed to the window,
staring out at the street, the children
with broomstick handles and halved tennis balls,
and, perhaps, into the dim red-fringed windows
of the lantern-strung Dragon's Den, the Chinoiserie,
where couples leaned together in the dull glow.
The mailman was a whistler.
She could hear him two blocks down
and met him at the door.
When the National Geographic arrived each month,
she put it in a wicker basket next to the toilet
with its dreamy bright blue water,
and she'd stack the old one in the attic, neatly,
each month rising like a child, by quarter inches.
I never saw her read them,
but she must have flipped through pages:
the veiled Bedouin, Tibetan women hauling timber
like crosses on their shoulders,
and the Gimi men in gourd masks
sticking their tongues through pigs' teeth.
Did she imagine her life splayed
in captioned photographs: The female of the tribe
taking a pot from the stove, ladling beans
and chopped dogs onto plates?
Would they have said she seemed invisible,
that we grunted into our food?
Once, she slapped my father, pleading,
Talk to me. He said nothing, steam rising
from the beans to his red cheek
like a Raji at the base of a bus-sized tree trunk
where he has lowered hive after hive
and now sits stunned from bee poison
the roar of a million angry wings in his ears
and my mother by the sink, wept
like a Raji woman wringing honey from a comb.