Two head masks from West Africa,
helmets of rough wood,
hang on my study wall.
One, a long-snouted pig face,
stares out through drilled eyes.
The other, a bird crest,
points down in a frozen arc.
Each is hacked from a single chunk,
painted ochre and white.

On my desk are framed portraits
of my two teenage daughters, who know
the story of the hard bargain
I struck in a crowded market,
how I wrapped the relics in goatskin,
lugging them from Mopti to Timbuctu.

But they don’t know I hold back
more secrets than the fading photos
from that hot journey. I can’t tell them
why these masks remain with me
after twenty years, why at times
my mouth gapes open like the pig’s
in hunger, or why like a wooden bird
I long to fly.