Poetry / June 2015 (Issue 28)

Without Photographs the Past Never Existed

by Clara Changxin Fang

I can’t say
here is where Red Guards ransacked
her house while my mother stood
trembling with her brothers and sisters
at gunpoint. Here is my father
tending to the chives and cilantro
as if the vegetables he cultivated
could make up for the years lost
in exile. Here is grandmother
sitting in a dark room against
the bamboo print wallpaper,
a bowl of sunflower seeds beneath
a picture of grandfather.

The street I grew up on
is now a highway circling the city.
The house I lived in a high rise
with sparrows nesting in the chimneys.

I know yesterday existed
the way the smell of a bar of soap
I bought in Chinatown
brings me back to five years old
and apu returning from the public shower
with a soap caddy on her arm
and the wet sidewalks reflecting
birds-of-paradise. Here is

the Christmas tree. A painting
of a farmhouse in a snowy field,
the Washington Monument
and the coast of Maine. Things
I never knew in childhood.
These are a part of me too,
like the cousins I lost twenty years ago
on a night crossing the Pacific
high above the clouds, whispering,
forget everything, but do not forget this.
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