Poetry / September 2012 (Issue 18)

First Trip to Asia - Two Poems

by Evelyn A. So

First Trip to Asia, September 1998.  Part 1:  Taipei
Pink spheres hang
in the steamy air.
Lantern-like between
poles. Leftover from
Hungry Ghost Festival.
On the bus from Taipei
to Yehliu Cape, our guide
mentions local temples,
fruit offerings, foods made
from flour dough.
Like All Souls Day
says Dad.  Lantern Festival's
waterborne lights guide
the dead away; the living
hold lanterns on land.
We visit Dad's youngest
brother. Tan, slim,
quiet through my chatter.
My one image of my uncle
before he lived in Taiwan:
he's sitting beside
my sister's dollhouse,
in my parents' New Jersey
home. Trying to stitch
a doll's leg whole.
My uncle almost
died as a child. Typhoid fever? 
Meals left outside
his door.  I try to ignore
Taipei's polluted air. 

First Trip to Asia, September 1998.  Part 2:  Hong Kong

One year after the handover,
Dad gestures to buildings,
shocked how small
the harbor feels. Landfill
he says. Still silent about
the occupation. He won’t buy
from Japan. We go on a harbor
dinner cruise. Modern
boat decked out as Chinese
junk. Electric skyline;
heat dissipates
in wind. In the hotel's
air conditioning, Dad relaxes,
splashes his face
with water. Doesn’t know
if he'll come back. 
It's one thing to be
a tourist
 he says,
toweling his face. Startles me
when he adds he doesn't
belong here. He rearranges
the clothes in his
suitcase. I listen
as he sings
under his breath, translates
from Cantonese. Shirt,
pants, undershirt

he laughs. Old traveler's
mnemonic…He's bringing
his mother's ashes
home with us. I wish I could see
handmade paper lanterns,
lit at night. I write postcards,
try filling in the family
tree. Always someone
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