Home Is a Myth
a poem by Uma Biswas-Whittaker
to her ma—“I
shall give you a few lessons
in the histories of your grandmother.
The secrets of her home, hidden
in mango stones and the crocodile’s river.”
She heard this myth last week. It's
alive somehow—“They are kept
safe in that gold elephant figurine.
In gayana and wedding presents,
all the memories she could fit in a suitcase.”
Babu wonders, would Dida
shake her head? Talk over Ma,
correct her বাংলা, quick click of the tongue.
Tell it, retell it, over and over—
it is over. Etch it on your granddaughter’s skin.
Ma washes the verses clean.
Can her daughter understand?
Has she lost—“My mother’s stories, her laugh,
honest prayers, wishes fulfilled.
Set aside all those old men. You are not their kin.”
Babu stares up at the sun,
makes her eyes sting, relaxes
in the summer glow—“Pay attention now.
Do not swallow your tongue. English
is an infectious thing. I smell it on your clothes.”
Babu grows up too quickly,
loses all her mother’s words.
in the wrong language. “I heard that
the secrets of my home are lost
or the crocodile’s river.”
- Uma Biswas-Whittaker