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.

About this Poem

“My grandfather died during the first winter of the pandemic. His was the first death of someone I loved. That winter, people everywhere experienced the impossibility of being with dying loved ones. No one knew how to mourn in absentia. Having been separated from him and the rest of my family for twenty-two years due to my immigration status, I had had practice. I turned to poetry. Poems can enact impossible journeys. So, even though I wasn’t able to see him or be with my family, I could mourn. Here, in this room I made for us to be together.”
Anni Liu