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after country

I speak with the weight of / hours left on this side of the pacific

Poetry | Wine, poetry
June 6, 2022

This piece is part of the Wine notebook, which features original art by Su Yu-Xin.

at my feet the foundations of my father’s name:
small town, running water. coarse lessons 
of country in mother-milk, crooked flight 
and footpaths. thralls of infant fever, raw sugarcane, 
candied hawberry. sitting thrilled at the table 
as dinners wind long into night-weather,
around country with men and women unrelated
except by loss, by journey, or by the desire to speak
dialects of home. baijiu panning glass moonbeam
as laughter splits, cracking at its edges like peanuts. 
the mountains of shandong are realized in piles
of sunflower seed shells, growing, as mountains do,
as one arrives closer and closer. when the evening 
thins smooth and unworldly, and liquor cures honey
along the throat, I am harvesting stories of country
from my father, deep in the smoky chest of summers
before this one, and before that one, before the ones
which men do not remember, but that are read only
from the stones. stories of dew-green jujubes
in which sweetness sleeps, cotton that comes apart
in the hands, and his father, parallel, telling living tales
on soft-nights, portioned by the same sugars
poured from the bottle. I speak with the weight of
hours left on this side of the pacific, collected 
in my hands from a slowly emptying table, from
those drinking with clear-open eyes from country, so
the things I know about country are in soft shapes 
of country. the arbitrary, strange, angled edges of 
country, passed around in plates swimming with dark
sauces, relieved from bone. sometimes I hear country
speak in my grandmother’s voice, one with my father’s
voice, stroking my face from temple to chin with
sun-drowned, farmland-drought hands in a map 
calling back to youth, tread to silk with telling. 
what do I know about country. his eyes set deep into 
my face. waters of which he had pointed to the bottom. 
ours. country alive on nights precious over oceans 
of rice and brine, the yellow river in a bottle, lilting 
tastes opening tongues to speak country, mysterious 
as birth, undressing light in all directions. home
trapped in the few seconds of opening a window to the 
nighttime, 2 am in conversation with 10 am country. 
images slow to still, glorious by my father’s language,
bruised from riding horseback, a grasp of mottled 
purple grapes. I wait at the edge of country,
my father’s voice traveling on to send glimpses
of a great and eternal creation.