Woman Poet Series, #29

Charlottesville, Virginia, 1960

I was six and the steam from curried rice
coiled yellow over my plate and I thought
of our family photos of pale cows idling

in crowded streets, monkeys hanging
on their backs; men chanting and children
watching snakes rise out of baskets;

women clustered together like pushpa,
their saris folding in petals around dark
faces, a tilaka dotting their foreheads.

I remembered the stories of my mother
with a broken leg that wouldn’t heal, me
inside her, and the only doctor, my father,

across another border in Katmandu,
where dancing girls begged him to be
their husband; and stories of his solitary trek

over the boundary of legend where he saw
the yeti, hairy and huge with dangling arms
and hands, too human–I thought of this place

where I was born and at that moment when I
was six and eating dinner I knew I would
someday have to return, leave my family here

gathered around a candle-lit table, one
sister dropping crumbs to an over-fed cat,
the other choosing colors for the prom.

I gazed at them over supper, secretly
memorized their faces–my mind
filling like the trunk I would drag

but their features crossed over like double
and triple exposures: blue-brown eyes, lips
moving without sound, braces, glasses,

pointed nose, crew cut, and blond braid
all on one face–their images would not hold,
would not flatten to sharpness and color.

How would I be ready, not the infant
in a shoe box carried on an elephant,
but the one I would have to become

alone in two worlds? Now, years later,
the trip never made, that moment
holds as still as any picture, one which I

framed, but in which I do not appear
among the muddle of images, and I try,
again and again, to separate sister from sister,

hand from face, flower from bright fabric,
and legend from the clean, sharp edge
of a table, the border between two histories.

Berwyn Moore

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