by L. Norton


Because we were rich, but lived in a poor country,
because we were young -- five, six, seven, and eight
we ate in the kitchen with the maids, the food
we liked best: scaly smelts, bananas, rice
in a lemony broth. Summers we'd be sent
to the beach, away from our aunts, who served us
ham salad and fruit cocktail out of cans
bought at the duty-free stores. Stiff
as hairspray, in the tailored
clothes they wore to airports (as they did the day
our mother left), they'd cluck --
then tell the four of us
of our great luck, that someday we'd join
our mother in America. We liked the beach
best, for we'd find giganctic rippling shells
big as fans, shucked off by giant clams, or great
jellyfishes. At night, our ever-watchful Theresa
who left home at fifteen (just one year before),
would tell us the scary stories we
liked best: one of children drowned
in the current, another of the dread
pa-ting, a huge and terrifying
beast, spuming tentacles and human
limbs, anguished faces bedded
in its curling lips. We'd fall asleep
to the crash of the waves, to the creak
of the hut's bamboo slats. Just
before sleep, Theresa would tell us
stories of reunion. We imagined America
was in the sky, and our mother
an angel. Sometimes when Theresa
would mumur in the night, I'd wake and peer
through a hole in e palm ceiling, imagine
my flying mother, her fleshy, feathered wings
sprouting through her beaded suit.


Poem copyright © 1995-1996 by L. Norton


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