It was not my choosing / to be my grandma’s living heirloom.
May 23, 2023
for Wong Phui Nam
On top of the pale-green chestnut cabinet, my grandma
Is a sewing kit gathering dust. It was not my choosing
To be my grandma’s living heirloom. But fate.
The grass had grown into needles around the house.
What used to be skin-toned cream paint of walls had paled,
As if the house and my grandma were spooled by the same thread.
And when my fingertips had kissed her forehead,
My grandma’s bones loosened. The house was ready to rest.
The heirloom my grandma bequeathed to me
Was language: the last speaker of an endangered sound.
Grammared by diaspora, syntaxed by a long history
Of longing for a nation to emerge from mud, I am the dry
Wrinkle of my grandma’s hands, a witness of her digging earth,
In search for the voices of her long-lost ancestors.
The living that she saw along humid streets
That were named after names of colonizers were all ghosts
With caged mouths, lips stitched by the English
Growing from their tongues. Even with the lush ripe dragon fruit
Of her mother tongue, my grandma is the lone tree standing
Amidst a forest of concentric rings: each circle
Used to be a life, each tree trunk a phantom limb
In search of the body of work. The soul of a nation is found
In its literature, and the sound of lament echoes
A thousand crying mothers in my mouth.
The sons they lost in the war for independence.
The stories told only by worms on a loose loam of grave.
My grandma and I had lost a country and I had lost
A grandmother to the limits a body can bear.
The last ring around her was the shape of her mouth
Crying in the spirit of our language.
I need to mow the grass around the house.
I need to mourn. The lullaby my grandma sang to me
Every morning was the chirping chorus of cicadas
Around the mangroves. My grandma was a child,
Just as I am an only child burdened to carry
The memory of my people, and the history of our loss.
In a dream, my grandma is a child carried by
The collective shoulders of her people.
In the wake, I carried every syllable and sound
Of her in my mouth. She is awake in my language.
She is present and future. In other words, my mouth
Refuses to speak of her in past tense. She is
The language I carry to bear: To break the quiet.
Before dust, the sewing kit had repaired the loose
Ends of a mother tongue. An earworm
Threads out from the apple of a song.