Poetry / September 2010 (Issue 12)

Two Poems

by Kim-An Lieberman

After Ten Years In America, My Grandmother Decides to Celebrate Tết

Because her life had already ended once, my grandmother
bought Three Crabs fish sauce on sale by the supermarket cartful,
stuffed her purse with glossy coupons for rice, beef, bok choy, eggs.
Because her new clock barreled forward from January, she grabbed
free calendars in Little Saigon, rouged her walls with pageant queens
and plastic pink azaleas against fake cerulean skies, counted down
the little moon days waxing and waning. Because her new year
arrived without fanfare, she fashioned a firepot from a steel trashcan,
wrapped bricks of sticky-rice in banana leaf, boiled them green.
Because her grandchildren wrinkled noses at mung bean and pork,
she dipped their xôi in sugar, filled their teacups with warm milk.
Because her own fate remained elusive, she lit the tabletop incense
and stacked a dozen satsumas and persimmons in the ancestors' bowl
to fend off regret, just in case a few souls wandered through
as once she did, too far from home to feast but hungry all the same.


My daughter is a collector of fragments:
single beads, stray buttons, broken twigs.
She trolls the garden, catching seedpods
and pebbles in her pocket. This is not to sing
a strange-eyed child, some oracular pure
who sees what we have lost. She is not knowing,
just doing. A small thing jealous of the world,
snatching her share from the groundfall.

After the first wave crested and cleared,
the beach was littered with golden fish
staring upward, still flapping as if to swim.
They say the children came running to gather,
filling skirts and shirtsleeves, crowing, gleeful,
brown feet flashing salt. Only then did the sky
open its sudden true hand, the second wave
reaching forward to sweep them all away.

Read Kim-An Lieberman's commentary on "After Ten Years" here.

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