Ron Pretty’s eighth book of poetry, What the Afternoon Knows, was published in 2013. An updated edition of Creating Poetry will be published later this year. He spent six months in Rome in 2012, on a residency granted by the Australia Council.
She could not speak to her mother
when they met. She had just turned
twenty one, but had never seen this
small dark woman until then, except
in photos. Harris sat beside her, his smile
inviting them to break the silence.
He would translate, he said, if only
they had something to say. Mother and
daughter looked at one another, tears
on their cheeks. Tell her, she said to Harris,
tell her I did not know where she’d gone,
which country she went to. I used to
watch the planes fly over, she said,
and wonder where they were going,
and if she was on them. Alana
– for that was the daughter’s name –
reached out to her without a word.
She took her hand. Visanthi,
the mother said, that was your name.
And still it is, the daughter cried.
Tell her, she said through her tears,
tell her that’s what it is. Star sapphires
falling as tears, and a second mother,
in her pale silence watching
Alana Visanthi there in that room,
Sri Lankan sun streaming in where
mother and daughter are holding hands
having no language except its loss.
Krystel said, I am happy with my mother,
my family here; I have no need to go
seeking for that distant other on that island
I have no wish to see. You do not feel
there’s something missing, her lover asks,
his pale hand caressing her straight black hair.
A long time ago her infant self was flown
out of penury into suburban class.
She’s never been back to see the village
she was plucked from; she loves her parents
who brought her home, happy they’d never
have to face again the heat, the beggars
on every corner, the guns at every checkpoint.
This is my home, she tells him, I have no other.
She will not tell him how she dreams, some nights,
of elephants wading a stream, a road side stall
selling papaya flecked with lemon, a cripple
begging under a figtree. The dreams recur,
but she has decided her life is here; she wants
only her mother and a lover who holds her
in his strong white arms as he kisses
and kisses again the warm dark skin of her face.