Two poems for my mother

That Thing Again

And it’s when she’d come to know
how seeds are stripped of light,
how they grow into an earth
which must bite off its tongue
not to have to wait for sweetness anymore….

Before the years cured her of hope,
mother would warn me not to
turn into the proverbial gourd-for-seed,
until I corrected that analogy one day
to her married, middle-class horror.

Technically, it’s you who are a bisor lāu,
if you come to think of it.

In our own pathetic ways, we’d learn
the stuff of seasons—
I, with three failed street-shows;
she, with the way our eyes turned to stone—
so one day, we’d stop fidgeting in our traps,
breathing whole years to seconds,
seconds to nows;
gather into a sanctuary inside us,
where dreams don’t sneak in disguised,
for a sampling,
a taste,
a quick bite.

I still suffer an urge to explain to her exactly how bad it is,
as though words would help us unlearn
the simplicity of this betrayal—
organs and glands
that foresaw the end of lies

but every bone in my body tells me she knows,
of course she knows:

we are fruits,
falling heavy and weightless
with what we know
and in this we are
beautiful and never

Happy Birthday

Light unwinds to begin.
Time still trapped in your body,
is a number dancing
to a countdown on my fingers.
Have so many of those birds
flown away?
Let’s see, if you live to eighty
like your mother,
I would have about thirteen songs
to sing with you,
only thirteen….

I keep asking silly
how old you’ll be today,
my fears hissing under each irritating
repeat of the question:
we are names for cages,
cages within cages,
one cage giving in to another,
until you know you mustn’t try
figuring out which is the bird,
which the cage…

Lalon doesn’t peddle solace
in the song shrinking in your body today
with its terrible aches and weariness;
and Boida too, who thought birthdays
were like sightings of a light-house from deep-sea;
to have passed another year
is no small feat in this deadly uncertainty;
the near-blind eye most clearly sees the miracle,
the near-dead hag deserves the best,
most chaotic of parties….

Ma, I want to sing you Happy Birthday,
simply as it’s meant to be sung
but the notes have morphed into wings
beating fiercely in Aita’s ninety-three-year-old eyes,
the last song dying to be shed
from an old tree,
a truth I grow more afraid of each year
when many happy returns
have buried themselves alive
in irony…

So with the remaining songs
in my 36-year-old cage,
your absurd hope that I will go after you,
not follow you too soon,
I return a speck of your indulgence,
gift you your illusion.
I wish you Happy Birthday
as happily as the child I should seem to you,
though I’m swallowing hard
between hugs and kisses
and really wishing you a quiet, quick
painless exit.