Friday, May 06, 2005

Grandparents (poems)

I The Will

orange peel dries on accordion radiator
goldfish in algaed shadows
red cushion motel furniture
In your bed,
sewing, reading, chewing
Chinese newspapers, pumpkin seeds, mistuned television
no volume in your red orange world
across from the projects
yours alone for forty years

"Speak up, she can't hear"
"Po po" I shout
One of twenty words we both know

"School is not for girls,"
Sin San pointed his teacher's finger past you
You brought your own desk to that stone hut school
and refused to leave
You kept a still during prohibition
Behind the baby's crib
You grabbed
brass poled cable car
on the outside
the neighbor women, all high pitched Cantonese shrieks
and shopping bags
reluctant followers
to the bargain stores outside Chinatown
You hand signalled the sales clerks, grunted, shook your head
for the best prices
My speak up Grandmother

at the fish market, in a restaurant
you pretended not to notice
the woman with your forehead, your set of mouth
the grandson who held her hand,
She had defied you into silence that lasted
Thirty eight years
You left four million dollars to your three sons
twenty dollars each to four of your daughters
one dollar to the other
three clauses in your will
You let your youngest son
hit your homeliest daughter
"She doesn't matter"
You told him
Your eldest son
dropped his pants to the floor
"Girls do the laundry for the boys"
"That's the way things are."
You told your daughters
You promised one daughter a six inch circle of jade
èThen slipped it on another's braceletted wrist
"What promise?" you asked
As you watched her tears race against composure
Your own face so many years ago in that stone hut schoolroom
My can't hear Grandmother

II The Heart

You bought oranges in crates
Rice in fifty pound sacks
propped up the stairway like sandbags
you sent your daughters
to take old men and women on the bus
to American doctors
A crumpled ten dollar bill in their purse
to help pay if the old ones couldn't
"Someday you might be old" you reminded them
As strangers slept
on mounded duck feathers in your poultry store's basement
"No one goes hungry here"
A pot of rice and a steamed chicken
Always in the back
in case

black and white, brownie lensed photo
overalls, arms around your children
"always smiling, always fair" so they say
you fought on the docks
pushing through blocks
of marbled ice, of sapiened octopi
arms and hands
for the freshest fish
in your bare light bulbed store
chicken blood on white aprons
hair that smelled of salt and sea bass scales
You squeezed your body under tables
to play hide and seek with your grandson
had tea with your youngest daughter
in doll sized cups

You, death worked inside out
from the center of your bones
a cancer that made you cry in pain
for two years
the justice of a chicken god
On the roof, I hear you sing
In my gravel off keyed voice
To the sun and soft-centered sky
Of things that matter
And memory that warms
the fog of our never having met of
"Your never being old someday too."
III The Eyes

Man soda in amber shot glass
before meals
A green formica dinner table
á lazy susan center of salte fish whol swallows with crunchy
bones, mounds of white rice, pale emerald vegetables, steamed
Your mustache trimmed, suit pressed
in your windowed breakfast room
secret ruler of the gambler's underworld

You drove twenty over the limit
your children took your tests at DMV
As they sang of netted gains, important friends, neighborhoods
gold starred papers
Still hoping you would sign their report cards
years after they had children of their own
With a single click of your tongue
A crumple of your lower lip
you held your house in place
nineteen rooms, two of everything
but just one wife

You collected clocks on your plastered mantlepiece
Set them every morning
just a minute off
So they chimed and chimed until time
moved forward, backward too,
pendulum still
for the pictures by the incense burner
You taught us to kowtow
three times each, on gold lamed living room cushions
your father and mother
in restored black and white
hard cheeked faces, gray brows
staring down
Witholding approval of their son

IV The Ear

The mosát beautifuá woman of your generation
They called you
at your husband's funeral
intensity and clarity
that age couldn't wrinkle
men still stole dreams from your looks
or was it stolen looks for your dreams
after your children had children of their own
ten pregnancies and six children
one a miscarriage
the other three, all visits to the midnight doctor
across town the one last time
èyou bled for six days, fainted in the bathtub
your everyday life
on a tv tray
solitaire with blue backed cards
counting money from the basement
thousands and hundreds clean and uncirculated
saved for the very last
your hands
never stopped moving

In bed till noon, opposite hours from his
game shows on tv
but in your kitchen
hard rock jello, Chinese chewing gum, reindeer soup
snails served on top of rice, corn puddle stew,
jook with marbles in it
The only reminder of the poems
You wrote as a girl
In the deep scholars' Chinese
You taught yourself with help
from an indulgent father
"Inside blossom
tear drop waits
for night."



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