Tangerines for My Mother

by Bibek Adhikari

For the nth time she asks,
“Do you really love me?”

I’m starting to realize my answer,
“Yes, mother,” is somewhat wrong.
Maybe the truth is something else,
maybe she is helping me
confess my feelings about her.

I am at my writing desk,
scribbling a few lines,
crossing phrases out,
adding a word here and there.

She watches me keenly.
I ask her if she is happy here.
She says her heart
is swimming in a jar of brine.

That evening, before bed,
she says an old prayer in reverse.
While she sleeps,
I stroll to the nearest market square.

The next morning, she comes up to me
and says, “What I do, no one likes.”

I shake my head. She shakes hers.
We converse through gestures.

My bald Zen-master once said
that I am too demanding,
that I am too ambitious,
that I should learn to say ‘yes’
to life as it comes to me.

I was up all night, talking to myself,
smoking mentholated cigarettes,
one after another, staring vacantly
at the yellow streetlight.

In the morning, I serve her
a cup of herbal tea and tangerines.
I want her to be as happy
as she once was in Tansen.
I want to tell her about
the dull ache in my heart.
I want her to make it go away
with a loving embrace.
I want this moment to be as good
as the years we once shared.

I peel a tangerine for her,
separate the carpels,
remove the pith, the transparent skin.
She eats a piece and looks up.
I ask her why she’s crying.
She says the brine from her heart
is, at last, spilling out.

Bibek Adhikari lives in Kathmandu, Nepal. He is a graduate student of English Literature at Tribhuvan University. A poet since the age of fifteen, his works have been published in some print and online format in Apeiron Review, Weasel Press, Borderless Journal, The Kathmandu Post, among others.

The Roadrunner Review nominated “Tangerines for My Mother” for Best of the Net and The Nina Riggs Poetry Award.