Grandmother, The Bride
In memory of Lo Siew Mee
You had already picked out what to wear in this second
The same black silk blouse, heavy with chinese embroidered
Unfurled in red and gold above
A crimson skirt that skimmed your ankles, slit to
Reveal shapely legs to your husband.
The dragon twins smile pink flowers from their mouths,
Adorning your marriage kwa as proud parents.
You remember the first time you wore it:
Father flexed his love with an entourage that
Dutifully adorned you from the day you crossed bloodlines,
Face made-up by servile hands,
A month of basking in love.
You were the first in a family of twenty-three to be given away
Today I watched other hands line your lips with rose-red,
Flower-fragranced talc and favourite lipstick lying next to you
Unmoving, as you are.
In the same marriage kwa of double happiness
You claim your free will as death's bride,
Making your silent escape from your body and husband
You choose to return to be father's daughter,
Your sedan chair a wisp of greying smoke.
Slipping away in the morning sun,
You leave the rest of us small comfort that it is fine weather to
On bright days you took us for strolls at the playground;
I was nine and you walked unaided.
We renewed the usual conversation every New Year's Day:
Of mother's cooking, my singlehood, your health.
I know you loved flowers and to be pretty,
Eyes smiling, lips brightened with red and mouth apart to laugh.
How did you find strength in the fearful stink of sickness and
How did you bind the curses of a faithless husband?
How did you heal from the death of your son?
Who are you as woman not grandmother?
I watched you moan for relief as you struggled in the last days
in the hospital bed,
Twisting violent lines into white sheet, eyes tightly shut as
cheeks lay wet,
Shrivelled hands outstretched - I want to hold you -
But your lips will now be dulled, you are silent in cold embrace,
the fine wrinkles that gently thread your face lie unread.
Today, the dragons will spew red fire to consume you
Gold replaced by the eye-whites of mourning.
The stifling fragrance of incense unfurls into the air
Tracing your passage as you cross thresholds again in
Are the certain arms of death any more fearful than a
Cool ash falls softly on black skirt as I kneel in front of you,
Your entourage of two generations bowed in waiting.
You will live through me in my blood and memory,
Our fatelines have crossed by marriage from grandmother
Weaving our histories into one like so many lines on my palm.
But I do not have the map of you in my hand, only
Imagined flashbacks, secondhand and embroidered with time.
I fear it is not enough.
I choke with each ghost of wasted opportunity.
By Karen Low
QLRS Vol. 1 No. 3 Apr 2002