As if coaching words to swim across oceans for her mother, my mother
shouts into the phone to help her family hear or understand. For years, she’s been adding
dollars to add minutes to buy time she gets to speak to family who have forgotten
all of the details: how much sugar she takes in her chai, if she spells her name
with a ‘t’ or a ‘th’. I wonder is this why she clings so tightly, why I’m twenty
and she’s still hiding matches in the back of the cabinet, throwing out gifted candles
before I can light them. She sees my hair catch fire before I strike a match
before the detector breathes smoke and screams. Every meal, Mom says to move my glass
away from the edge. She sees it shatter before it reaches my hand, before it leaves
the table. Studies have shown immigrants in isolation from their communities experience
significantly higher rates of psychosis. Sometimes I wonder what she would have been like
if she’d never left Bangalore. Maybe if she had family to argue with she wouldn’t be
scrapping with the silence, laughing at the air. On a whim, Mom cashes in
her retirement so we can see Switzerland but I can’t stomach the blues, the greens,
the mountains melding in the train window because Mom props her magazine
with her middle fingers to flash them at the woman across the aisle. As always I forget
to document the good. How Mom waits while I browse watercolor sets in the art
supply store as trails dim and the animals go into hiding on the mountain
she longs to hike. How she waits while my brother lights candles in new cathedrals
of a church she’s been abandoned by. How, despite her growling stomach, Mom saves
her packs of airline pretzels so my brother and I have snacks for later.
The instant camera doesn’t snap her smile on the train.
It just captures the blur of trees we leave behind.
Nina Boals is a writer from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She is an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington, where she is currently the poetry editor of Indiana Review. In her writing, she is searching for a language of compassion to explore mental health and complex family dynamics.