Becoming Ghost

Cathy Linh Che
I stand behind a one-way mirror.
My father sits in a room
interrogating himself. Bright bulb
shining like the idea
of a daughter.
 
—
 
It looked just like the real
thing. The helicopters, the fields,
the smoke which rose in colors,
the bullets blank, but too real.
Coppola yells Action and we
drag slowly across the back
of the screen, miniature
prisoners of war to Robert Duvall’s
broad, naked chest.
What you’ll never see
written into the credits
are our names.
 
—
 
Ghost of a daughter:
specter, spectator, from a future
we can only dream of. We never
dreamt that one day, you’d be
my age and too bitter
to talk to me. I who gave
every peso to your mother,
who sewed coins into the linings
of my pockets, so that you could eat
enough food and grow taller than
either one of us. I am asking you
to look me in the face and say Father.
I am asking you to see me.
 
—
 
Morning yawns and today,
my father has deleted a daughter, today,
he’s blessed with two sons
who take after his fire and quicksilver.
Today he may be haunted by the grip
of a friend who died in his arms,
but not the scent of a baby girl
he held 37 years ago. Women,
he says, and spits out a phlegm-
colored ghost. There is plasm,
he says, and shrugs–– and then,
there is ectoplasm. What is a father
who has two sons? Happy,
he replies with a toothpick pressed
between his thumb and forefinger. Happy,
he says, looking into the mirror
and seeing no reflection.

More by Cathy Linh Che

Burial


There is the rain, the odor of fresh earth, and you, 
        grandmother, 
	in a box. I bury the distance, 22 years of not meeting you 
		and your ruined hands. 

I bury your hair, parted to the side and pinned back, 
        	your áo dài of crushed velvet, 
		the implements you used to farm, 

the stroke which claimed your right side,
	the land you gave up when you remarried, 
		your grief over my grandfather's passing, 
		
the war that evaporated your father's leg, 
	the war that crushed your bowls, 
		your childhood home razed 

by the rutted wheels 
	of an American tank—
		I bury it all.

You learned that nothing stays in this life, 
	not your daughter, not your uncle,
		not even the dignity of leaving this world

with your pants on. The bed sores on your hips
	were clean and sunken in. What did I know, child 
		who heard you speak only once, 

and when we met for the first time,
	tears watered the side of your face.
		I held your hand and said,

bà ngoại, bà ngoại,

Ten years later, I returned. 
	 It rained on your gravesite.
		In the picture above your tomb, 
		
you looked just like my mother. 
	We lit the joss sticks and planted them. 
		We kept the encroaching grass at bay.

Related Poems

OBIT [The Blue Dress]

The Blue Dress—died on August 6,
2015, along with the little blue flowers,
all silent. Once the petals looked up.
Now small pieces of dust. I wonder
whether they burned the dress or just
the body? I wonder who lifted her up
into the fire? I wonder if her hair
brushed his cheek before it grew into a
bonfire? I wonder what sound the body
made as it burned? They dyed her hair
for the funeral, too black. She looked
like a comic character. I waited for the
next comic panel, to see the speech
bubble and what she might say. But her
words never came and we were left
with the stillness of blown glass. The
irreversibility of rain. And millions of
little blue flowers. Imagination is having
to live in a dead person’s future. Grief is
wearing a dead person’s dress forever.