— A tribute to Elizabeth Bishop
Even the loudest thunder cannot shake the fruits
on the wampee tree, where raindrops one by one gather weight
and in an absent-minded moment suddenly fall, like days
shattering in a row. Mother looks up but still hears no sound
and suddenly raises a trembling right hand to draw a house
as if hoping, amidst a rising fear, to rebuild a dream.
Mother insists the man in black by her bed was not a dream;
even if bats invert night and day, wampee fruits remain fruits.
To stop memory’s layers from gradually leaving the house,
she salts the vegetables even more, giving each bowl more weight,
and keeps returning to the garden to pick up the sound
of gravel and falling leaves, locking them up like circled calendar days.
Father recounts how wood burned in stoves back in mother’s days,
coffins were placed on beams, steaming brown rice lifted dreams
from cracks. Mother could only write her name, relying on the sound
of other voices to read. She stayed in Guangzhou, where sour fruits
grew even after cicadas stopped singing. Grab some mud, its weight
a mystery, then a brick wall, aged green. Loneliness is our old brick house.
This thirteen and a half foot space is filling up like that house
on the field with poultry, with tables of dishes in disarray, days
connected by root and blood, and the deserted tables’empty weight.
“Go, go, go!” By chance, father repeats what mother utters in her dreams
then thunder swallows his voice, and on the wampee trees are fruits
even vultures wouldn’t eat. In the park, we hear only the rain’s sound.
When Mother returned, it was as if she hadn’t, making no sound.
The water in the well didn’t ripple, streaks of rain didn’t enter the house.
Then the rice cooker switches on, garlic fills the air. A wampee fruit
is turned over by the dust pan, then unpeeled bites of unpitted days,
then fresh water, a trench, plates stacked on plates, a bed without a dream.
It seems the steps we took have been retraced, adding no weight.
When thunder is at its loudest, does the sky press a certain weight
on the mortal world? The drawer opens suddenly without a sound,
the photo album flips open, sketches fade into grayscale dreams
of people in black who pass through the closet to bear up the house,
walking far away, becoming a gray mountain path that bears up the days
we got through with difficulty, fading out like wampee fruits.
“Bring it back.” In my dream, mother holds up ripe wampee fruits
and the sound of her voice tastes like rain. Must the accumulated days
of lightning storms carry such weight? In the rain stands a bright house.
I don’t know when we began eating at a nearby restaurant,
not wanting to trouble mother during New Year’s and other family gatherings,
until the time we spent in the old house grew shorter
and the mosquitoes swarming in from all directions grew fiercer,
forming a herd, ready to risk it all, flying so close I could
clearly see the space between their fuzzy antennae
I slap, slap the empty air without pause. Mother goes about
as usual or gossips with us, utterly indifferent to a house full of mosquitoes
About time to set off, mother. But mother comes out massaging her belly
and says no, face dimmed by lamplight, her stomach is upset
Because perhaps, after seeing the white hair on her temples this afternoon,
she ate some of the vermicelli left out since breakfast
Why didn’t she warm it up why didn’t she microwave it before taking a bite?
Mother stayed home on the night of the winter solstice, refusing our company
I saw a sky of mosquitoes slowly, slowly land on the walls of the old house,
the kitchen counter, the chairs, the desks, the cups, the bowls, the chopsticks…
Time belongs to them, now. Over the phone, father says mother is asleep,
don’t worry, and my head starts to ache on the West Rail Line
as if I were in the old house with mosquitoes invading my skull over and over,
thin wings quivering at high frequency, piercing through a pain I had forgotten