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For My Grandmother by Esther Sun


and then, with shivering asphalt, the black

washes into neptune blue, stars pitching themselves

into the city. In my dreams, I can never

hear the wind —

just the occasional leather-tongued clarinets,

their voices snaking through dreamscape trees,

the stove humming as I prepare mung bean soup

late at night, the taste of two o’clock wistfulness.

Years ago in childhood, I feared death would drive

her way into your lungs or heart any minute. Instead

you took death by the neck and held her,

cleaning dishes while my mother took classes

at the community college, roping your way over

on the laundry line of dusk to shoo the dark away

from the corners of the kitchen, the rims

of my uncratered mind. As if you could drink

moonlight, almond-rinsed, and spread it through

the house with a flick of a hand towel. Sometimes

I ask God to lace my sleep with you: bullet-eyed,

nocturne-lipped, fingers lighting up dry night

like burning saints. But in this sleep, I sink fast

without asking. Into this sotto voce breath,

I resign. In this dream, I don’t need to hear your voice —

only see that it is more likely you stirring

the mung bean soup and kissing me gently

as the tremor of the metropolis beneath us settles

and into the bruised city you depart.


Though your language was a music box I could never crack open

and mine one you couldn’t even touch. It was near the end

when I came across two photos of you young: at a piano bench,

poised — then hugging the old golden retriever, your lips

red-ribbed, your eyes sentries. Could, for once, grandmother

not mean gab and granddaughter not mean growing up

indefinitely, just until I found a way to let go of this year’s

liquored autumn. Could I have scraped out my broken Chinese phrases

when you asked about school because I knew whatever

I said you would have taken home by the neck and held

in the hours until you slept. Yesterday I found you

lying in bed on your back, stone-stomached and beached.

I latch on to these pieces of you. The flavors of glass noodles

and all the words I’ve ever said. The old Honda

you drove me home in that is now mine, the purple hair tie

you always brought to lunch for me, to pull out of your purse

when my hair fell too close to my plate. At some point

I stopped giving it back. Now I use it to string up

the wax moon that insists on slipping down my bedroom walls,

skin crumpling as easily as my own.


8:40 p.m. The backyard’s resident frogs shoot

their voices into the stewing dark. I have started

washing dinner’s dishes, green liquid soap foaming

into bubbles, chopsticks clacking as I rub them

between my hands like a prayer. Maybe when you go

you will sing among the frogs in their evening spectacular,

present your favorite Chinese song in the courts

of the cricket king. Maybe you will retire to your bedchambers

in the alcove of the moon. Maybe you will still drive

the dark away from the kitchen corners, infuse the air

with the almond light of the moon, speak softly

as you lead me to bed on August nights and I fall asleep,

dreaming of a blue city train track that doesn’t end. And I

will try to unbind my Chinese so I may send you off

with mung bean soup, a coat for the road

and a kiss, a poem that is ready and ripe.


Esther Sun is a Chinese-American writer from the Silicon Valley in Northern California. Her poems have been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, and they are forthcoming from or have appeared in Vagabond City, Euphony Journal, Élan, and Blue Marble Review. Esther is a 2020 American Voices Nominee for the Bay Area Writing Region.


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