Sarah Diniz Outeiro via Unsplash

A Picture after Travel, a Difference

The mustache pasted above his lips
came from a box—a joke he carries out

for her benefit, though its tune has softened
to a whisper in the overcrowded room.

He wears the same three-quarter sleeve tee
he used to layer under his baseball jersey.

He smiles, though it’s a stiffer grin
since he’s returned home.

Having moved among the penitents 
of a golden mosque she can’t recall the name of,

slept on couches in a dozen apartments
in cities full of strangers,

borne witness to communal poverty and hyenas 
grappling over bones on a dirt road in Rwanda —

these things’ve changed him. Another tribal mask 
arrives in their mailbox after he’s been home a week,

steeping rooiboos at four in the morning,
his head full of strange languages

and experiences his photographs show
in fragmented, five-by-seven surfaces.

She half-understands why he runs
the garbage disposal

without opening the tap — 
because he saw dirt, tasted dryness,

and thought he had to save 
what all he could of the gush.

The picture-taker blows through pursed lips,
and suddenly they’re smiling, arm-in-arm.

See how she’s​ lifted
her shoulders, shortened her neck?

Her hands would, if visible,
show us flaking skin,

one occupational hazard 
of art-teaching,

source of a discomfort which 
lotion stills but doesn’t slake.

They’re in clay all day, and washed 
a dozen times before lunch.

When he tells of his dusted, split shoes, 
which he left to a woman with two sons in need,

she hears sounds of running
water, imagines its cool, endless flow

numbing the chapped grooves
between her fingers.

At home, she gnaws her fingernails — 
until she remembers: it rains here all the time.

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