We inhale together, honour life

with burnings. Each layer of ash

 

a generation. I can almost hear

Ông Ngoại living across

 

the room. Perhaps he was always

part fire, part city, part typhoon.

 

And Mother, maybe you were born

to smell like something alight –

 

one life folding into another.

Maybe you were made to kiss

 

the perfumed throats of our prayers,

bruise your bones against the shadows

 

of our ancestors. You tell me

how we are from women who kill

 

their own hogs, plait hot gold

into necklaces. How your mother

 

buried yours in the yard, as she tried

to divine whether we were meant

 

to survive. You filled your chest

with black and white memories

 

that won’t scab over, drained tears

from your body to make space

 

for a child. Mother, I have watched

you feed your flesh to an altar,

 

hang your voice from spirals of light.

In your dreams, I never happened

 

and a jar of ginger crumbles to a jar

of black teeth. Mother, I have seen

 

how this nation expels you

from your body, makes you count

 

the places that might still love you.

Mother, let me feel the weight

 

of the name they took from you,

shake off the god you never learned

 

to love. I want to discover us

in this pile of glass, for this water

 

to mean more than what it has stolen.

Maybe we were made to bless

 

our wounds with every new birth,

hoard shame that we cannot outlive.

 

How we beg at the edge of a blade,

preserve our tongues with praise,

 

roll old songs in our hands. Mother,

teach me to fever through English rain,

 

collect wrappers and fold our griefs

into an elegy of birds and lotus flowers.

 

*

 

Gold joss paper flares and flaps

from the tin barrel. Smoke rises

 

in cattails. We quiet the flames

with Cointreau (Ông Ngoại’s favourite),

 

bow to the black mark left

on the kitchen floor. My mother opens

 

every door in the house, says

that should be enough, I think.

 

We bend the sun in our mouths, wait

for ghosts to swell our blood

 

with their singing.

© 2019 harana poetry

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