Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Remains by Timothy Liu

The Remains

                                                  —Wuxi, China
Walking out of the new cemetery, my father 
takes my hand, having just re-interred the remains 
of his own father and his father's two wives— 
his mother dead from T.B. by the time he was ten.
He takes my hand and says, Now I can die in peace 
even if we didn’t get the actual bones. Village thugs 
hired by my uncle made sure the burial mounds 
behind the house my father grew up in would not feel
a single shovel blade go in as they stood there 
sentinel with arms crossed. My uncle's wife 
had a dream that out of the grave's opened gash 
demons rushed—ancestral ghosts not wanting to be
disturbed. In less than a decade, bulldozers will come 
to take the Liu village down. My grandfather's 
ashes, my grandmother's bones, my own father 
walking away with two fistfuls of dirt and saying,
This will have to do. So many others have died 
who’ve left nothing behind. I'll never come back 
to this place again. My father kisses my hand, 
I who've flown across twelve time zones to be here
at his side in a borrowed van, me looking out
the window at a countryside once overrun 
with Japs marching West along the railroad tracks, 
my father and his siblings hiding in an outhouse,
a dead horse found in the schoolyard soon after 
the soldiers had gone. Your hands are so soft! I say 
to my father. So are yours, he says. Remember 
when it was we last held hands? I must have been
a kid, I say, maybe eight, or ten? You were six, 
my father says. And I'm still your son, I say, 
leaning into his shoulder, our hands the same size. 
And I'll always be your father, my father says
before I have the chance to say another word, 
my eighty-year-old father nodding off into sleep.

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