with the strings of his erhu,
外公 puppets plum blossoms

climbing branches, butterflies
unfurling from cocoons, coarse linen

lingering against silk sleeves. rice wine
loosens his ceramic-crisp lips, uncorking

stories of stubborn milk teeth
and toddling legs like cured sausage.

外婆 feeds me steamed rice,
garnished with the warmth

of her palm. the living room
swells with rasping laughter,

cigarette smoke, unwinding

when broken / against concrete / a plate and an ashtray / will wail / in the same / minor key / a single phone call / casts a line / reels in daughters / & their daughters / from four streets / two cities / half an ocean away / my mother packed too early / prayed too late / so we greet 外公 kneeling / at his headstone / our arms empty / of white chrysanthemum / black brocade / a final embrace / while walking to the wake / my shadow grazes rotting petals / winces at mangled clay & glass / from the kitchen / 外婆 watches / as the last moth / keels into / the shriveling candles / & the last stick / of incense / unspools

on the altar, fruit fly corpses
dust the crusting candle wax, stain
what remains of 外公 in grainy
photographs. the carpets, starched stiff,
are no longer softened by socked feet.
the sole visitors to 外婆: the thud of plastic
testing kits against her doorstep. her
voice grows thinner with every video call.
before the screen flickers to black,
my eyes catch sparse first snows,
stray feathers, swallowtail wings
wilting on the windowsill.

外公 = grandfather (maternal)
外婆 = grandmother (maternal)

This poem won the October 2023 Monthly Poetry Prize! 

Poetry Editor Micheline Maylor writes about "Metamorphosis" by Grace Yifang Liang:

Metamorphosis is a sophisticated and highly imagistic portrait of a multi-generational family. Each fragment builds upon the next to build the timeline and the intimacy of the family system. The specific attention to distance and isolation creates an elegiac sorrow that is both beautiful and sad.

A woman woman dressed in black and white looks at the camera

Grace Yifang Liang

Grade: 12 / CEGEP I
York School
Toronto, ON

“This poem was inspired by my last visit to my maternal grandparents, the video calls that followed, and the family gatherings before. I wrote this poem to refocus and sharpen these recollections, coloring them with grief, love, and solitude; I wanted to capture how these sentiments are constant yet ever-changing, like moths and other creatures that undergo metamorphosis. In this poem, I chose to address my grandparents in the language I used to converse with them in; I hope to preserve the intimacy of these moments while inviting readers to understand my family's journey. ”

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