Pumpkin Memoirs

CAS for Database

Catherine Liu

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Washington High School

Poetry

I saw how your father’s cross carved notches in your skin

& how you were promised pumpkins

before you were promised peace.

How your grandmother’s lungs overflowed

& how you knew the taste of iron grief

before you knew my name.


Your father’s memoir on hurt,

first to you, then to your daughter:

“This is the wire mesh and the bolt cutter,

the bidirectional wind at the bottom rung.

This is the only thing the poor man knows

when he is not afforded ease.”


The capillary branches of horsetail pines,

the soft beat of the jungle field.

This was the heart of China.

To the ventricle cave, you dragged your dead brother’s

wilted limbs, the hollow victims of your fights

over fistfuls of winter squash.


You watched your own body decompose

and cried a guilty prayer from jutting bones

while landlords’ heels drove leftovers into dirt.

This was when you learned that moral compasses

are locked in glass display cases, that cruelty

only says its name when the starving are the perpetrators.


Was it not cruel to be born in hunger

& in the year of the rabbit

with its feet cut off?

To offer your rib to the saints

& see your pagoda graze the scarlet sun

but never deliver?


Your memoir on hope

from when you were denied life:
“This is the dragon and the phoenix,

the airborne performance that bears faux fruit.

Never listen, for the only time the sky sings

is in its thunderstorm laments.”


Millions of chests faced the cherry heavens

in pumpkin patch graveyards.

When the November sale came, decades later,

you gave me a knife to carve their shells,

to disembowel their tangled organs,

to slash the orange weeds of past and present.


My grip was slippery with unease,

because my hands, unlike yours,

did not memorize the arc of their father’s swing,

and my hands, unlike yours,

could understand the craft of killing

but could not guide the weapon.


“Blame the deputy coroner,” you assured,

“who looked to lords from his ivory balcony

while dead bodies piled below him.

But don’t blame yourself, daughter,

because your palms, at once,

can be violent and bloodless.”


Y/our memoir on survival

from the ghost of that bloody sky:

“This is how hands heavied by earth

will squeeze each other in the dark,

not because pain is good

but because good relies on a deaf god


& because family is only called family

if our hearts are hardened and whole.”

EDITORIAL PRAISE

With profound, poignant imagery and lines that are so dark, so vivid, so breathtakingly fresh and unexpected, reading this piece can at times be a punch to the gut, but it's well worth it.

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