Grandma wondered as I cut her hair
if I would mourn her when she died.
On the television, a discordant chorus
of weeping girls
crowded around a white,
She doesn’t believe in the afterlife,
only the proper rites.
Mother thinks we will be born again.
She does not wish to linger
in ceremonies, the grave.
She says that we will
But Yama, receiving souls of the dead
in his judgment hall,
says we must forget
our past lives.
He measures out
the punishment that is our due:
twenty, forty, maybe
a hundred years
is needed before we can be
colorless and new.
Grandma emerges from the shower.
By now the girls have quieted. A man
is selling scissors.
I dry her with the towel. First her hair,
dove grey with strands of white.
Her neck, her shoulders and their brown
diabetic patches. Her spine,
its milky yellow curve and, at the base,
one faded purple mole.
She lifts one breast and then the other
for me to dry. They have stretched over the years
to her stomach, the skin thinner
than rice paper.
The long veins
in each breast
a surfacing blue
so clear it will take more
than a hundred years to forget.
From Unearthings (Tavern Books, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Wendy Chen. Used with the permission of the author.