Poetry / November 2009 (Issue 9)

Father and Son

by Stuart Christie

I. Father

Help me carry the aluminum siding, son.
I lean a little too far this way.
But for your careful arm, I might fall over.

It wasn’t Mao’s fault I helped those
tigers fly over the mountain.
Brave, kind, and foolish Americans—they
couldn’t even read a character!
I had to stop a man from feeding his
airplane cooking oil.
We kept them flying all right.

By the end of the war, my English was
better than theirs.
So I ordered this and that and the other thing
and the people remembered.

For me being one-kneed never mattered,
even after the ball of my hip leapt out of its socket.
Freed from the surrounding skin
with the puckering sound a ripe lychee makes.

After I came home, it didn’t hurt much at all, you see.
Holding you and your mother just so,
my isosceles dream come true.

After they let me come home,
only once did I regret not having an upright shadow
to measure you by.
You were always taller than I could be.

Just one time.
The day I stumbled
at the water's edge,
you looked startled. I remembered that look
for years afterward.

It was worse than anything they gave me in the dark.

The day your kite dipped too low into Lake Dian.
And forgetting
I bowed like a maimed ox in the mud.

II. Son

I remember.

The aluminum siding fits securely into place,
on the exterior wall of this bedroom
I’ve built for your occasion.
You drive nails sidearm into the wooden frame,
a sputtering explosion,
to make a man one-third your age marvel.

I am older than that now.

On leave from my duties at the university,
I am bringing you home.
Your wife dead, your daughter
married to a chemical engineer in Europe.
It wasn’t Mao’s fault, you always say.
China is where you will stay.

You don’t know it, but I gave up a job in America
—America!—for you, for this eight-by-twelve
brick and mortar annex adjoining my library to
your mid-afternoon snore.
Which leaked.

And today you are teaching me how to fix it—I!
The top of his class, a man of capitals, a man who makes
Hemingway and Li Bai sing in chorus.
I have packed houses from Fudan to Chicago.
(And Johns Hopkins, too.)

You taught me to fix it,
And now you are moving in for good.

I remember the day you came home.

You dragged your reluctant leg across the platform—
I’d never seen a torso paddle before.
And you orphaned your rucksack halfway.

Mother leapt into your arms,
and you both fell to the earth with joy.

This poem was nominated by Cha for the Pushcart Prize 2010.

Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
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All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.