My grandmother is only one day
into her infirmity and doped up
on Morphine. Her shoulder is immobile

beneath layers of plaster.
Her eighty-five-year-old frame droops
from the weight of it.

My mother confesses:
she cannot take care of her mother.
I am not she says a nursemaid.

My mother is angry. Angry
at my sister who didn’t give enough
support, angry at my grandmother

for shuffling her feet, angry even
at the dog that was tucked beneath
my grandmother’s arm

as they all three tried to squeeze
into the door of the vet’s office.
She calls me from the emergency room

to say that grandmother fractured her shoulder
in three places. She’s become an invalid
overnight, she says. My sister calls her cruel

for refusing to run the bathwater, refusing
to wash my grandmother’s naked body, for
not even considering renting

a wheelchair for her to move from place
to place. When grandmother whispers
that she is afraid to walk, my mother

tells her that there’s nothing wrong with
her legs, tells her she’ll have to go to a
nursing home if she won’t walk

to the bathroom: one piss in the bed is
understandable, two is teetering too
close to in-home care.

My sister does not understand that there
is too much to overcome between them—
always the memory of the black dress

grandmother refused to wear
on the day of her husband’s funeral—
the way she turned to my mother and said,

I am not in mourning.

Related Poems

Intravenous Lines

Nothing better to do than watch
each drop of Cytoxan shimmy

down a see-through tube
to anoint the chosen vein.

You could turn to the window’s maple,
smoldering in autumn sun,

to catch the precise nanosecond
when leaf detaches from limb—

stare down a likely candidate,
curled and tinged with brown.

A nudge from the wind
might encourage the scene along,

but even then, if the angle of light
isn’t just so, you’d miss

the shadow of falling leaf many yards
beyond the trunk, hitting asphalt

and racing toward its embodied self.
When leaf touches ground,

does its shadow ascend?
In these shortened days of fall,

I look for signs of renewal.
Look how the sun flares

bonfire orange and gold
as it clings to the west. Listen!

Can you still hear the freight train’s
burst of horn displacing the air,

after the last boxcar
slinks behind the farthest hill?

Do only laws of physics apply?
In old movie frames, I see my mother’s

young face, gardenia-pale
against dark curls. She is waving,

climbing terraced steps to a lake.
I reverse the reel at will,

my mother backing down
the stairs, then floating up again.

Dear Melissa: [I wish you]

I wish you (my mother once told me—mother of my child-
hood—even though water is water-weary—what is prayer if not quiet
who has made me—what hands you become when you touch—
who laid down on whose body—whose face and whose shoulders

worth shaking—what will I not hear when I look back
at you—who is not the mother of a daughter—who is not
the mother of a man—we are right to be afraid of our bodies—wind
is carried by what is upright and still moves what has) had

(been buried deep enough in the ground to be called roots—
when will this be the world where you stop—whatever broke 
into you was torn by the contact—a face wears a face it can see—
what is alive is unrecognizable—need it be—who is my mother,

mother—no one—who hasn’t killed herself by
growing into someone—I’m sorry you have) never been born

Autumn Leaves

The dead piled up, thick, fragrant, on the fire escape.
My mother ordered me again, and again, to sweep it clean.
All that blooms must fall. I learned this not from the Dao,
   but from high school biology.

Oh, the contradictions of having a broom and not a dustpan!
I swept the leaves down, down through the iron grille
and let the dead rain over the Wong family’s patio.

And it was Achilles Wong who completed the task.
   We called her:
The one-who-cleared-away-another-family’s-autumn.
She blossomed, tall, benevolent, notwithstanding.