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)