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My Mother’s National Geographics

ISSUE:  Spring 2001
Our house tilted forward, an errant tooth in the row,
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.


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