There is the rain, the odor of fresh earth, and you, grandmother, in a box. I bury the distance, 22 years of not meeting you and your ruined hands. I bury your hair, parted to the side and pinned back, your áo dài of crushed velvet, the implements you used to farm, the stroke which claimed your right side, the land you gave up when you remarried, your grief over my grandfather's passing, the war that evaporated your father's leg, the war that crushed your bowls, your childhood home razed by the rutted wheels of an American tank— I bury it all. You learned that nothing stays in this life, not your daughter, not your uncle, not even the dignity of leaving this world with your pants on. The bed sores on your hips were clean and sunken in. What did I know, child who heard you speak only once, and when we met for the first time, tears watered the side of your face. I held your hand and said, bà ngoại, bà ngoại, Ten years later, I returned. It rained on your gravesite. In the picture above your tomb, you looked just like my mother. We lit the joss sticks and planted them. We kept the encroaching grass at bay.
Copyright @ 2014 by Cathy Linh Che. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2014.
“In 2012, I visited my grandmother’s burial place in Vietnam. While standing at her gravesite, it struck me how profoundly the Vietnam War had affected our lives (I essentially grew up without a grandmother, and she hadn’t met us until she was about to die). In this poem, I was trying to encompass the vastness of that loss, and also to honor her life.”
—Cathy Linh Che