Perfect On Her
a history is a whirlpool of images;
time passing at a relative pace
by photographs (yellowed and lost forever)
of children and old men in tailored suits,
knock-off saarinen furniture (in vogue then)
and funeral snapshots where light knocks on
the doors of shocked faces.
we came by during the spring festival,
i was a little child in red ching-chong garments
regaling her with optimistic new year songs
and receiving gingerly two plump mandarins and her freshest notes
(we were there earliest you see).
she had these sworn sisters, it was the thing back when
you still treated outsiders as your own
and threw galas to celebrate their fraternity.
how could we understand? how could we ever picture
her, hair plaited exactly the same way as those
other women, since we never knew heung-cheh or seem-yee,
the only whiff we ever had of that
emitted from daytime period soaps?
i never quite understood, too,
the last time i visited her before she stopped talking,
why she let us sit on her dinner table chairs,
though crackled and weathered they now were,
and she, stooping low, folding herself into
her flimsy plastic stool.
we were from different worlds,
we were aliens come to visit with the old.
those flecks of green
in the beautiful black garment she wore to the photo studio
to get her last portrait taken were tailored,
probably, by the best shanghainese fingers she knew -
they do the best cheongsams, she always said,
how the glue stained their fingers - they tacked on the satin lining by hand.
they buried her with her jade earrings,
so glassy, so pretty, so touchable,
as she lay there in her casket.
her son's wife kneeling by her in the mornings,
clutching her rosary and saying little prayers
to replace the music plucked from her life.
why did they bury her with her jade earrings
i asked my mother.
they were perfect on her, diminutive and full of grace.
perfect for her lobes.
when i trace the threads that stretch
through years, arguments, reconciliations,
i stop, half-hearted: all i know of her:
a girl of nineteen
from canton or - no - a village much less busy
a lithe lady, a second wife,
a fast walker who resisted the bondage
of centuries and generations
Her feet when she died
were small and stout,
their bunions inherited by her children.
By Ken LeeQLRS Beta Issue