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ma and i are the
living here, negotiating
terrifying details under shallow
breath, the dead reluctant witness
to a stumbling thanks
            a small pyramid of sunkist
            oranges and a pear on
            a red plastic lotus
            stout-stemmed, edges

the narrow room is rectangles of
grey marble, stacked
eight high to fluorescent ceiling, on each tile
the face of an ancestor, behind each we know
a sealed cubicle, a jar
of ashes
            tofu and wheat gluten in
            a styrofoam container, white/yellow/orange
            mock chicken/pork/goose

with eyes our nerves race to interpret, the ancestors
look at us from the damp depths
of the inadequacies we were so
relieved to find names for,
offering these again, should the nerves disrupt, or
pressing tongues soft against new:
            a borrowed vase half full of government
            water and yellow chrysanthemums
            in unison, three bows
            three sticks of incense, sandalwood

ma cries, kneels to be eye level to her father’s
mother, father’s father. she wets a wad
of toilet paper with water from a plastic coke bottle,
wipes the marble top to bottom:
            the name of their hometown, their names,
            the names of their children. she tells them:
we have flown back to you from a gamble, 
toronto, a destiny you willed us with your sweat. 
after 40 years, and imagine you here, now, the dust
of your bodies in cells, a low corner of a room crowding
with ghosts, i always 
meant to come sooner, and here 
is my daughter
            yes, this is our meeting place, and i am here
            to give thanks:
                  laced fruit from california, flowers from guangdong

thanks for the tightness in your muscles, built
to give me better that i might
Teach Native English for 250 hong kong dollars an hour that i might
come here to touch
your cool stone
for      my,     a,
                                        truth to speak you
                                        now. soon
we hear footsteps
the shush of fruit into plastic bag.
sorry, they say, we are closing.

as we leave the grounds we see them redistribute
the oranges to the elderly
the vegetarian food to the dogs
ma’s eyes flame to mine and down.
next time just fruit, she says.
i say, you like dogs
the women are happy, the dogs are happy.
ma and i laugh dyed ripe, rush
to come away from
their easy togetherness.

Olive Senior read this piece in manuscript, helping develop it for TOK.
View Yaya Yao’s author profile.

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