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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

I assume we all have our own rituals
beginning today, even though today is March 9, and back then it was March 10—
it was a Monday, and that matters more.

I picture Mother kneeling, kowtowing to his picture and all the Buddhas,
goddesses, and all-seeing eyes at her altar, wooden prayer beads
around her neck falling forward as she does, supplicating
my father’s still nascent soul into someplace good,
so her soul will go someplace good someday too.

I picture Sister going about her day as usual,
nothing remarkable or special to note
except for the sadness that’s always there is deeper today,
and she tries to not know why.

I woke up today almost not knowing how today already has changed me
from yesterday, when I lay in convalescence from a malaise I’ll always have.

One year ago, I was on my way to where Father lay—
or I had pictured him lying, scared and confused,
or more likely resigned. On a plane, in the clouds,
I wondered why teleportation had not yet been invented,
why five hours is sometimes too long, sometimes not long enough.

Today I bring the heavy blue ceramic urn from the altar in my bedroom
to the kitchen table. I select small smooth pebbles and tiny seashells
to fill the candle holder. I can’t find my candles in the dark
where my husband sleeps.

I turn on the burner on the electric stove to 8 and wait
for the tip of my lavender incense to glow red.
Incense in the urn. Ashes to ashes.
(Oh god, Daddy, my heart!)

I make a pot of chamomile tea, three pinches of dried flowers
from the container to the pot, hot water hitting the flowers,
steam rising to meet my muffled sobs. I want to WAIL WAIL
CRY SHAKE at this utter bullshit,
but I know better than to wake my family like that.

So it will be. For the next 17 days, I will remember
each of those last 17 Days, now knowing how they were numbered
on Fate’s calendar,
each morning lighting incense on the stove,
my tears sizzling when they hit the burner,
upon contact, water and fire, brief pop,
just like his last breath,
the final laboured one after 17 days-worth.

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By this time next week

I’ll be in Vietnam. I can’t seem to adequately describe to anyone how profoundly terrifying this is to me because every time I say that I am going to Vietnam and that I’m nervous about it, the person with whom I’m talking dismisses my statement and says, “Oh, but you’re going to love it there!” And I have a big problem with that. Here’s why. You are not me. You did not grow up half-Vietnamese, half-White with two parents who were scarred by war in very different ways. You did not grow up not understanding the language your mother spoke but looking like you should. You did not grow up watching your father medicate himself against the visions he kept seeing of gruesome deaths of his friends. You did not have the nightmares that I have had about a place that you heard about all the time, but only in a limited context that you knew was far from the whole horrific story. You are not going alone with your Vietnamese mother, whose brain is super-fucked up from the sudden death of her husband of 44 years, who took care of everything that had to do with her survival in a country far from her family—your Vietnamese mother who can’t trust anyone because of all the times the people she did trust betrayed her and threatened to kill her or her family—your Vietnamese mother who knows this is likely the last time she will ever step foot in the country from which she came. You are not traveling with that baggage, Person I’m Talking To. So please, do not tell me how much I’m going to love it there just because you did, because the Vietnamese were so warm and accommodating to you and your Western ways, with your guidebook and your curiosity and fascination, with your conscience void of trauma–don’t tell me how much I’m going to love Vietnam because you don’t have a fucking clue.

I might. I might not. I don’t know. I just don’t want to be told. So don’t tell me. Don’t tell me anything. I’m used to not being told.

***

Vietnam, February 2015 (40 Years Later, soon)
Part II

He’ll guide me to the places
He always hid from me but wanted to show me
at the same time, when He could show no one else,
not even Her in their closest moments.
She only understood so much in the way
of the mythology of the GI Saviour born from/
strayed from/returned to Jesus Christ,
like how it was when He couldn’t rescue Her anymore,
and then it was Her turn to rescue Him,
console Him at the cross.

He was supposed to show me the places where
tourists marvel at the spectacle of war
as shown by the victors, while confiding in me
in good faith, the cynicism of governments
versus humans—people who become inhuman
with their power, in their power
while blood thickens mud.

So I’m told that this country is full of perfume,
sweat, sorrow and joy—the beauty of overcoming
this Thing that people visit, then leave all the time
because it is a country of dreams, so so so many of them—
but don’t forget the people left behind.

He couldn’t forget. She tried.
Except when tradition told Her to remember.
And still, She tried.
He’ll guide me to the places They couldn’t forget,
those places I know from which I truly came.

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When Souls Go Somewhere

The rain, the soul of the world crying with me,
made me feel more hollow,
an unending blackness of WHY
sighed like that last breath breathed out,
an eternity of last sighs.

The light turns red, and our car stops by
a homeless guy in a mud-splattered poncho
with a warped cardboard sign about
being homeless and having a terminal illness.
“Hey Buddy!” I shout inside my head.
“Life is a fucking terminal illness!”

And it sucker-punches you in the gut,
the light turning green and how things are still going,
but he is not.
He stays glued to that hospital bed, head still beading
with cold sweat, breath shallow,
aggressive cadence on the chest until the last beat,
he stays there, and he can’t feel you touch him anymore
but all that is in you washes out so fast you can’t breathe,
just like him, you want to choke on that last breath, just like him,
you want to stop moving, just like him. But you can’t.

The car pulls up to the curb. The rain keeps on.
I open the door. I steady myself
because this is today. This is one foot
in front of the other.
This is me, and how he used to be.

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IMG_1421.JPG

Buy these pieces of my brain.

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