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
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.