Her pale, slender fingers
fly through my hair
as she braids it in the kitchen
on a Monday morning,
while I panic, thinking of my bus to catch.
Her lap is overcrowded with children.
My siblings all find a space there
and smirk up mischievously at me.
I, the oldest, frown
because there is no place for me.
But she smiles,
and I take that smile from her instead.
Her face is disappointed and long.
The excitement that had filled her
today has vanished as she stares
at the ruined, salty cookie cake
in front of her, dripping with gritty frosting.
She looks up, catching us watching, and tries to smile.
I moan and groan of my life’s problems
and she tries to listen sympathetically, nodding.
But one funny remark she couldn’t keep in
leaves me wanting to shout and stomp
because I’m not brave enough to carry out
all her ridiculous solutions, anyway.
Her hug is warm and soothes.
Her soft kisses are like butterflies
that brush my worries away.
So sometimes, when I need a butterfly,
I make like a flower.
Lines appear on her forehead
crinkling with worry,
because one of her babies is hurt.
She doesn’t stop yelling at us
until a week later.
Grains of rice in her hand
fall as she chases her only son around,
encouraging him to take a bite.
But he laughs joyfully while he spits it out.
Her voice captivates us
in those rare times
she tells a story of her childhood,
when she was a little girl growing up
in a huge family with pet chickens,
and troublemaking brothers.
When I rub oil
into the cracked palms
of her feet at night
after a day’s hard work,
I wonder of the lands they’ve graced,
and send a prayer.
I’d like to see them too,
the different worlds that have molded her.
People strain to look at her,
because of the way she modestly covers.
They’re bothered by the fact that they
can only see her eyes, while her husband
wears a t-shirt and jeans.
But they don’t know what I know.
It was her choice, one she made proudly.
I see others wrinkle their foreheads
at her isolation.
She doesn’t know how to explain,
her five kids need her more.
They’re lost in the confusion of the world,
and she needs to be there to gently guide them.
She slaps the dough of the rotis,
shaping them expertly,
whispering her prayers and
instructing us to do the same as
we bake alongside her, saying,
“Food affects everything.”
What scare me are the
unspoken wishes of going back,
to where she used to belong.
Her family is gathering together,
laughing on the other side of the world,
and she longs to be there too.