Lake of the Isles

January 2021

After my grandfather died
I waited for him to arrive
In Minneapolis. Daily
I walked across the water
Wearing my black armband
Sewn from scraps, ears trained for his voice.
Migration teaches death, deprives us
Of the language of the body,
Prepares us for other kinds of crossings,
The endless innovations of grief.
Forty-nine days, forty-nine nights—
I carried his name and a stick
Of incense to the island in the lake
And with fellow mourners watched
As it burned a hole in the ice.
He did not give a sign, but I imagined him
Traveling against the grain
Of the earth, declining time.
Spirit like wind, roughening
Whatever of ourselves we leave bare.
When he was alive, he and I
Rarely spoke. But his was a great
And courageous tenderness.
Now we are beyond the barriers
Of embodied speech, of nationhood.
Someday, I will join him there in the country
Of our collective future, knowing
That loneliness is just an ongoing
Relationship with time.
It is such a strange thing, to be
Continuous. In the weeks without snow,
What do the small creatures drink?

Copyright © 2022 by Anni Liu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 24, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.