Poetry Award

Open Casket
from Clarion #0 1998
(the issue entitled "?")
Eva Ting

A funeral summons me an ocean away:
My grandmother's face, complacent,
a foreign sight to my stranger's eyes.
Incense, heavy, drowning me in sweetness,
a perfume of my past.
I remember sitting in my grandmother's lap
her stories of tricky rabbits
who outsmarted wolves,
filial children who walked barefoot
through blizzards
to find turnips for their hungry parents.
My grandmother's voice was raspy,
fuzzy sandpaper
surprisingly soothing
with the soft cadence of Cantonese.
I remember - - -
celebrating birthdays
with cakes as big and round as hubcaps,
the frosting clinging to my nose,
my grandmother beaming
and the light from the candles bouncing
off the fillings of her teeth.
I remember - - -
my grandma visiting us in America,
the lines of her face weathered,
her voice horse,
her Cantonese broken,
the melody interrupted by a stroke.
She disrupted my life.
Her solid shadow could darken a room.
That smell of tiger balm and
mothballs she carried.
She sat in a dark room, alone,
eyes fixed on the television screen.
Out of wet eye corners,
she watched my brother and I talk,
so quiet we forgot she was there.
She loved sitting in our yard
as the day slipped into dusk:
the birds warbling,
her toes digging in the grass,
the blades tickling feet,
a hiccup of laughter
from the small woman in the lawn chair.
I remember - - -
watching her figure
grow dim in the fading light,
catching her eye and seeing her shiny teeth,
Knowing her smile would linger
as everything else grew dark.

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