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.
Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Tseng. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 25, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.