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.
Every day you sink into her To make room for me. When I die, I sink into you, When Xing dies, she sinks Into me, her child dies & Sinks into Xing & the Earth, Who is always ravenous, Swallows us. I don’t know where you’re buried. I don’t know your sons’ names, Only their numbers & fates: #2 was murdered, #3 went to jail, #4 hung himself, #5, who did the cooking & cleaning, is alive. #1, my father, died of pancreatic cancer. Of bacon & lunch meat & Napoleons. Your husband died young, of Double Happiness, unfiltered. You died of Time, Of motherhood, Of being the boss, Of working in a sock factory, Of an everyday ailment For which there is no cure. I am alone, like a number. #1 writes me a letter: My dearest Jenny, Do you know Rigoberta Menchú, this name? There were also silences about Chinese girls, Oriental women. In field of literature, you must be strong enough to bear all these. An ivory tower writer can never be successful. You are almost living like a hermit. Are you coming home soon? He doesn’t mention you. Perfect defect. Hidden flaw in the cloth, Yellow bead in the family regalia. Bidden to be understory, Silences, pored & poured over. You are almost living. You say hello to me quietly. What is success? Meat? Pastries? Cigarettes? The cessation of Communion with self? I want to be eaten By an ivory tower, Devoured by the power Of my own solitude. We’re alone together. I read the letter every day before death. Where are you buried, Nainai? I’m coming home soon.