The geography of my mother’s hand

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By Jay Gallera Malaga

My mother, while trying to shrink a trunk of my clothes
to fit in my bag, delivered a summary of my childhood.

I was told that when I was a child, I couldn’t sleep
without my hand holding hers. Through the labyrinth

of pillows and blankets, I would explore that world only
to settle in the continent of her hand until I would drift off.

She did not have to tell me that. I still can remember:
my tiny fingers tucked in between hers – long, slender,

smooth as the silky calmness of the sea at sunset.
I would trace the horizon and curves of her palm,

wondering if hers was a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle;
and if it would fit mine. It did not. I lacked the altitude

or the depth – or maybe both. Those lines, those valleys
would mount the map guiding me to a destination – sleep.

They would form the many characters and build the plots
of a folk tale in my fancy. She would breathe the wordless

lullaby eroding through the gaps in the windows the images
of the aswangs and the duwende my brother would draw on my mind.

Although the night would darken more as I would close my eyes,
I would not be afraid of it as long as our poles were joined together.

It was perhaps the earthquake caused my father’s second stroke
that eventually added many small faults to my mother’s palms.

They withered and went through weathering: frozen by the ice
of my father’s indifference and thawed by the fire of his temper;

he shaped his own island in grave darkness, and in deafening silence,
went screaming once in a while piercing curses and painful words.

My mother had to close her mouth not to echo my father’s thunder,
contain the storm in her fist and condense them into tears poured

in her rivers of hope and oceans of dreams; as she massaged the numb
half of my father’s body and as she clasped her hands in mute prayer,

turned the pages of the Bible and caressed the beads of her rosary.
I wondered what would all of those climates turn her continent into.

Once on a vacation, while I was clipping her nails, I trekked again
in search of those structures, but they were broken into many plates.

Our continents met and I was so surprised to see that they fitted well.
Was it because of my mother’s atrophy or my own seasoned growth?

Holding her hands firmly, I read to her a few chapters of my journey,
trying to say that I would survive because like her I was also praying.

I was also building, moving, and deconstructing mountains myself,
rock by rock. Although, I had to confess that amidst the “constantly

changing weather” that was city life, there were nights that I would
sleeplessly travel along the latitudes and longitudes of her hands.

She laughed – the kind that would send birds to shriek, rats to run
in circles and fishes to jump above water surfaces – so blissfully

that our mountains collapsed and rains came filling in our cracks
with new verve. Catching our breaths, we retired as one dream.

Montage Vol. 6 • August 2002