Evenings, our mother sat in her sewing room,
hair wrapped, mouthing amendments as she studied
the Constitution. Her whisper, not
English, not her
Hausa tongue, but something lower,
like a car engine choking its own throttle.
Together, we named presidents, capital cities,
adopted habits like moving her green card
from one closet to another.
She kept a folder for every one of her lives.
In the kitchen she turned Cream
of Wheat to tuwo shinkafa,
cooked kuka until our Catholic uniforms stunk
of baobab leaves. She'd spend weeks in
her garden refusing to explain anything
but the marigolds. In America, no one could say her name
correctly. America becoming our mother’s
junkyard, her name
rusting like a pile of crushed Chevy’s
beneath the salt
of so many tongues. Our mother wanted
something from America more
than children. On weekends,
we stole the heads off
her rhododendrons, counted the Naira
in her underwear drawer.
From calling cards, we learned phases
of her spent mother-tongue.
Naa goodee meant thank you.
Kai, everything else.
Hafizah Geter is a South Carolina native currently living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and was a 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship Finalist. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in RHINO, Linebreak, Narrative Magazine, Gulf Coast, and Boston Review among others. She is a poetry editor at Phantom Limb Press. www.hafizahgeter.com. This poem was originally published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art.