Winter 2019 Poetry

Natalie Wee

When my grandmother begins to forget

 

This sentence begins where her memory ends: my grandmother
on the beach in the evening, calf-deep in water. The shoreline

glittering amber bottles & a second set of footprints. Her palms
shatter the foam’s pale roof, then emerge, clean & hollow.

The simplest migration. No proof of motion besides the
unmistakable scent of salt. Now she looks, not at the water,

but the light that bends through it. Dates or constellations,
schooling just out of sight—names darting in unbridled

spills. If she could only touch them, her sisters will return,
full-fleshed & gorgeous, & the feral ache in her spine will unspool

the weight of a child not yet born, her name still her own.
Pale moons of her kneecaps scale the wet as she searches.

What she knows of loyalty is the unchanging horizon. Of
keeping something safe in the mouth without breathing.

How she’d practiced for months or years in that forest,
folded into the side of the attap hut, awaiting the warplane’s

loose teeth, the soldiers spat out to speak the language of men.
She tells me because she cannot forget &

because she forgets she tells me again. Me, 宝贝
beyond the bayonet’s bite in this story, because in her telling

I am not born until she remembers. & then I am born as proof
she survived. She survives whether or not I write this

after the fact. In a moment she will look up & find
my body’s reminder, fresh from another airplane,

sleeker & kinder than those they used in the war. Her face split
not with the whistle of a far-flung boulder, the beggar’s

bomb, but the sun breaking over us, a perfect Lunar
New Year’s mandarin orange. Ting-ah, look…beyond

waves flattening themselves against shoreline, seagulls dive-bomb
foam into bloom. How gorgeous each radial shimmer, 

testament to the daily attempt to outdo forces of nature.
How wonderful it is not to remember having failed.

 

 

 

 


Natalie Wee has been published or has work forthcoming in BOAAT, The Adroit Journal, Asian American Writers' Workshop, and Indiana Review, among others. She has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology.

 

 


 

  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.