[This poem will appear in Epiphany Fall/Winter 2017, arriving this November].
The Chinese often describe death as a walking out of life —
“he walked” or “he left.” A simple gesture, leaving
the room unannounced, a quiet slippage from one body into the next.
My mother’s father died on Halloween. They said
the ghouls took him. In Taipei, a door slammed
shut. In America, I went trick-or-treating, counted
the Snickers and the Smarties, licked my fingers.
They burned his body down to powder. At the funeral,
we lit fake money and paper flowers on fire. The ashes
could have been anybody; I stared into its face.
Washington shoreline: my mother collects driftwood and round
grey rocks. We pay overweight baggage fees and carry them
in our coat pockets so she can build a granite garden in the front yard.
In the kitchen: four mounds of piney moss, avocado seeds in small
glasses of water.
In my room, I overwater my succulents. They grow white
and bloated, but at first I mistake the milky sheen of their petals
for living. In the harsh morning sun, my cup of moss has shriveled
into a hard piece of earth; its roots hang like twine. I decorate the dead
thing with small white flowers; I hide it in the snow. Always a fine line
between burial and waiting for something to grow.
May the people my parents left
haunt me when I walk through
the dark. It is the only way I know them.
My cousin crashed his motorcycle
on a Taipei freeway. Internal
bleeding, intestines, smashed
ribs; his skin burned. When I
found out, I couldn’t remember
what he looked like, just
imagined him, his insides: bone soup.
The feeling of my skin sometimes:
stifling. Ghosts walking
inside my body; organs
and bones liquid, running
through my teeth. Like inhaling
ashes, the mess of burn and nostril
— pressure, chest, the hold.
How can I celebrate the living —
I’ve grown up loving the dead.
I am blue-fingered, heavy
into sleep. A quiet slippage, this hiding
beneath the snow.