Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Open Casket by Eva Ting, Poet Laureate of Massachusetts

A funeral summons me an ocean away:
My grandmother's face, complacent,
a foreign sight to my stranger's eyes.
Heavy incense drowning me in sweetness,
perfume of my past.
I remember sitting in my grandmother's lap
her stories of tricky rabbits
who outsmarted wolves,
filial children who walked barefoot
through blizzards
to find turnips for their hungry parents.
My grandmother's voice was raspy,
fuzzy sandpaper
surprisingly soothing
with the soft cadence of her island dialect.
I remember
celebrating birthdays
with cakes as big and round as a harvest moon,
the frosting clinging to my nose,
my grandmother beaming
and the light from the candles bouncing
off the fillings of her teeth.
I remember
my grandma visiting us in America,
the lines of her face weathered,
her voice hoarse,
her sentences broken,
the melody interrupted by a stroke.
She disrupted my life.
Her solid shadow could darken a room.
That smell of tiger balm and
mothballs she carried.
She sat in a dark room, alone,
eyes fixed on the television screen.
Out of wet eye corners,
she watched my brother and I talk,
so quiet we forgot she was there.
She loved sitting in our yard
as the day slipped into dusk:
the birds warbling,
her toes digging in the grass,
the blades tickling feet,
a hiccup of laughter
from the small woman in the lawn chair.
I remember
watching her figure
grow dim in the fading light,
catching her eye and seeing her shiny teeth,
Knowing her smile would linger
as everything else grew dark.


Originally published in "Clarion", the literrary magazine at Boston University.