White Teeth

My mother carried White Teeth around with her for years.
Like a security blanket.
Like a symbol of something.
Train rides through Switzerland,
rocky Spanish beaches,
cherry orchards and lavender fields in the south of France,
Zadie is there,
like a stranger caught in the background of our family photos.
At home White Teeth lived on the floor beside my parents’ bed and
I would trace the loud block letters with my eyes every time I entered their room,
drinking in the soft, clean silence.

When I saw it in on the used paperback shelf years later I bought it without thinking,
as if the seeing it and the carrying it back with me into my own home were one fluid, thoughtless motion.
I cracked open the first page and realized
even after all those years of her struggling through it,
unwilling to admit dislike or defeat, that
I’d never once asked my mother what it was about,
if she even got that far–
if, instead, she let it get lost in our move back
across the ocean, a remnant of our other life
best left where she found it.

I’d always assumed it was a nothing book,
the kind of book they sell in airports
big neon covers
numbered titles in contrasting colors,
author names curated to fit the genre: you know the books I’m talking about.
So imagine my surprise when
I fell
in love with this
stranger from my past,
A gift my mother never meant to give me:
the soft, clean silent space I carved around it,
the strange love bursting within it.


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