Ode To Two
In the mid-1900s, much of rural China was illiterate. My grandmother first learned to read in her adulthood; in her early stages of learning Chinese, she could read only while murmuring the words to herself.
And at this little apogee
of my youth, it can but
roiling sweetly, tumbling
back to me:
The tangguo that broke my teeth last April.
The chrysanthemums withering just beyond our window.
The silence about it
the loudest—the apple
bubbling in the pot.
Then the evening. The room lit
for two who clutched books close
as infants, the tall table
at which we sat. You,
muted song; your veined hands
gripping chopsticks, tracing
each small, inked line
to guide your eyes along. Lamplight spilling over
and onto the table like steaming water
My hands know no work.
Yet each summer we’d stoop low
upon firm soil,
beneath a sun which swathed
the little world in light, and such a light,
as though it struck each filed edge
of a crystal prism. We’d laugh
as our burnt arms twitched,
bearing cartons like gold pans to your garden,
twitched when tending tomatoes
well on their way to ripeness—plucking
those that drooped heavy
with red flesh. The day before,
you’d spooned old soup
into milk cartons,
each oil bead aglow, and taught me
not to waste. The day before,
you’d pressed young mums
into my cupped hands,
watching the oil slow
and thicken into gold.
In time, I will cross the ocean
to greet you,
greet you with an armload of books,
a pocket of seeds.
But today, I read whole chapters,
plant small bodies in the dirt, hope
for life. Promise—where you are,
the sky stops wincing long enough
to hint at good harvest. Where you are,
gushi surely murmur
on their own.
And still I can’t speak
in sentences, so I turn my eyes
down to watch tangguo collect
at the bottom of the sink,
and push boiled apples
about in my toothless mouth.
This piece blows me away with the grace with which it treats familial connection. It’s truthful in a way I rarely find.
Isabella Jiang lives in New Jersey. Her work has previously been nominated for The Best Small Fictions and recognized by The Poetry Society, Hollins University, The National Federation of State Poetry Societies, The Growing Stage, and elsewhere. She edits for Sandpiper, Opus, and HerCulture.
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