Why did Salma leave us so suddenly
soon after we moved in the house?
Mom says we left rice unsealed in the pantry
that soon became a birthing bed for maggots.

Soon after we moved in the house,
our dog was mauled by another wild dog.
Its brain became a birthing bed for maggots.
We hadn’t learned that dogs here were unclean.

The day Dad brought the dog to roam like our old pets,
my parents tried to duplicate the world where we once lived.
They hadn’t learned that dogs here were unclean.
Salma taught me that her name means “safe.”

My parents tried to replicate back yards in the Midwest,
though maid’s quarters behind our house were something new to us.
Salma taught me how to cook Nasi Goreng1
and how to fry bird chilies that tickled the back of my throat.
Maid’s quarters behind our home were something new to me.
I joined her in her hideaway with mat and chair.
Her bird chilies delighted the tip of my tongue.
Salma gave me books to learn Bahasa Melayu.2

Terimah kasih,3 Salma, my mentor in batik.
I know why you left us so suddenly.
Saya minta maaf4 our dog drove you away.
It was never the rice unsealed in the pantry.


1                     a Malaysian rice dish
2                     Malay, the Malaysian language
3                     Thank you
4                     I’m sorry

 

AMY BASKIN's work is featured in What Rough Beast, Riddled with Arrows, Fire Poetry Journal, The Ghazal Page, Postcards, Poetry & Prose, Dirty Chai, Panoply, and more. She is a 2016 Willamette Writers Kay Snow Poetry award recipient for her poem “About Face.” She has worked on revision with Paulann Petersen and Renee Watson of “I, Too, Collective,” and participated in generative groups hosted by Allison Joseph and Jenn Givhan.