I told myself

My Chinese will get better.

I will get older.

I will not answer your broken

trailing

questions

With simple, monosyllabic utterances

“hao.” “you.” “shi.” They slip and slide from my uneven bottom teeth, unready

Instead of parachuting off a confident tongue.

I said,

One day, we will have real conversations.

On life in Taiwan, and Jesus, and did you really escape from the communists in China who thought you were evil bourgeoisie?

I will get better. I will make beauty out of an ancient language;

Sprinting stallion soliloquies instead of frail foals on folded legs.

And you will get better too. The paralysis will fade, and the stitches will come out, and you

Will learn to walk again.

Next time, it will be different.

 

My life is different now. I am different now, not who you knew;

The little girl just eight years old – feeding you mushy applesauce and rolling your wheelchair through fake gardens and leaving the room when they had to change your diaper and never quite grasping

Just how serious things were.

I wanted to tell you.

About my piano recitals and tennis tournaments and science fairs;

About how boys would tease, and girls would giggle, and that I thought of you, too

Every Father’s day.

My Chinese was still immobile. But you? You were better.

They moved you out of the ICU

No more tubes in your face, or incessant beeping like electronic crickets, or uncannily happy nurses who didn’t speak your language of eye blinking.

The future looked more sure than it had in a long, long time.

 

We booked a flight when the call came.

Two tickets for San José – nonstop plane from our home to

your grave.

You met death at a time when everyone had already heaved a sigh of relief;

Maybe we should’ve held our breaths for longer.

The flight was cancelled anyway, and I cursed my body for weeks

For succumbing to sickness, and for being afraid

of seeing your gaunt face one

last time.

 

My Chinese will never get better.

I will forever be stuck in fourth grade lesson books and clumsy calligraphy.

What my ancient kin wove into poetry, I will tangle and knot into a laughable,

unfathomable

mess.

I have a whole life left to live.

I have words left to write

and be.

In every language known to man,

And even a few of my own, I will write and write.

Until these leaves of taupe skin are covered, not a single cell left blank, and the ink has been spent – my veins

dried.

What language do they speak in the skies?

Grandfather,

I will learn it for you.

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