In our home we brewed ginseng tea to battle unnamed / diseases. We held hands with health. I was never good at it, of course: / always too bitter, oversteeped. Always the universe mocking me / from the sidelines.
Like Dali, I melt clocks in my spare time, flirt with the absurd: our palms etched
with memory, lungs open like wings. Once, Grandfather taught me
a Chinese proverb: outside of sky there is sky, outside of people
there are people. Outside of this world, there is another one.
My days are measured in bouquets of jasmine, empty matcha tins,
pu-erh strewn carelessly on living room sofas. After my rabbit died
in first grade, Grandfather and I played checkers. A hop to the side
and over the angry Monkey King is the first tone, mā for mother.
Then, the leap up, a distraction for the crafty raven, is the second tone:
qiú for beg. Third, the daring retreat, an obstacle to surmount: lǎo
for old. Lastly, the proud fourth tone: zài, meaning here, perhaps even
meaning home. In our home we brewed ginseng tea to battle unnamed
diseases. We held hands with health. I was never good at it, of course:
always too bitter, oversteeped. Always the universe mocking me
from the sidelines. My entire life I have been cheating fate and language
and love and loss and so maybe it was my fault, then, for not listening
to the breathless exhale of the blood pressure machine, for not folding
the laundry whenever he wrenched over, spine furling like the underside
of our fine porcelain cups, for not saying zhù nǐ shēntǐ jiànkāng in
the right tones, for watching the clock hands tick and tick and tick. Now
I am running out of time, waiting in the emptiness of this parchment-white
room. The trajectory of ordinary light leads me to an airport terminal or
his bedside or the end of the world. I am here, wǒ zài. Grandfather,
stay, stay, stay, despite this crookedness.