in memory of my mother, missionary to Cambodia 1927-1954
Six intricate patterns etched
into this silver napkin ring,
all alike, yet not just quite, each shaped
and poked by grizzled peasant hands
in a far away land, in a far away time;
unnamed, unknown, an artisan at work.
My mother stands at his market stall,
fingering the labyrinthine motif,
mirror of her own complexities,
her apprehensions, questions, joys, all
twisting through a life she can hardly imagine
to be real; birthing daughters
as she swelters in the tropic heat,
as she wraps her tongue around
strange words—Preahyesaou sraleanh—
“Jesus loves”—a love at times elusive
in a world so crowded with beliefs and fears
as ancient, as mysterious as the royal ruins
in the jungles of Angkor Wat.
She bargains with the seller,
counts out piaster bills, fondles
the ring, her luxury, rare treasure
in a life severe and spare.
The ring now holds my napkin;
I stroke the tarnished band, trace
the patterns, irregular, complex;
the peasant’s life? my mother’s life?
my own? our fingers touch,
our stories merge, a tangled,
twisted circle of life.