I was always afraid
of the next card
the reader would turn
over for us--
for not knowing
how we were
every card in the deck.
Walking out of the new cemetery, my father
takes my hand, having just reinterred the remains
of his own father and his father's two wives--
his mother dead from TB 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.
She took the spareribs out of the oven
and set them steaming on a plate
before leaving her apartment.
I didn't know how long to wait,
tore into cold meat when I decided
my mother wasn't coming back.
No one knew about the gun she kept
in her purse until the authorities
called--a .38 caliber pistol
with a pearl handle and a trigger
even she could easily pull--
her car still waiting to be towed
from a roadside ditch
when they arrived on the scene.
Yesterday morning, I was leaning
over a kitchen sink, my husband
upstairs sleeping. Between his snores
muffled under a down comforter
and a portable electric heater that kept
our bedroom warm, I knew
I could sob as loud as I wanted
without disturbing his dreams.
At the sports arena between musical acts
and clouds of dope, I texted my lover
a wide-angle shot of the stage--
the reception bars on my phone
bouncing back and forth between high
and low--a text I had to send
several times before it went through
even though there was a chance
his phone would be off or the text get
lost for hours in the ether, even days.
The silence is the agony.
My therapist says: It's not your fault.
No way for you to have known
exactly where your mother was headed.
Then why am I left weeping
in my kitchen decades after the fact?
When I went upstairs and sat
beside my husband, he could feel
the mattress shift beneath our weight
even though I felt much lighter
after watching translucent ropes of snot
lowering down into the sink, arms
around me when I asked if he
was awake, knowing that he wasn't.
How many romances get derailed
when a text that has been sent
fails to go through? How many mothers
disappear through a kitchen door
never to return--the food on the table
the last meal they will ever serve?
My lover texted back: Where are you now?
Having no idea what I'd been
going through when he texted again:
Wish I was there with you.
When I removed
the ring I had
been wearing for
a decade, a ghost
where the gold
had been--my finger
cinched where it
had been constricted
as I prepared to
step into the night--
My auto-correct keeps changing "trust" into "tryst."
Seventies TV hardly indelible.
But that episode of Bob Newhart where a woman allows herself to fall
backwards with eyes closed into the arms of her therapist, I remember.
The canned laughter each time her body fell to the floor.
Some things once seen cannot be unseen: how "therapist" becomes
"the rapist" when you add a space.
This is only a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. Had there been
an actual emergency . . .
And if I let myself fall into your arms when there is no crisis?
Still hesitant to YouTube that episode, wondering if seeing the thing
again will start something I won't be able to reverse.
Preferring not to think about the love we made caught on tape through
a hole hidden in the wall.
The fact that you knew and I didn't makes me feel all the more a fool.
Not knowing when you put your finger inside of me, who was it really
for, that after all this time, I may have gotten it wrong?
Trust me, trust me, trust me.
The salt in the isolation tank just buoyant enough to keep my face
from sinking below the surface.
As though I were a speck of dust floating on a single tear.
A hundred dollars for a hundred minutes at a spa no one seems to have
And when my time is up, what if no one comes to open the tank, what
How the taste of a single tear that falls from my eyes can get you hard.
How to trust someone like that?
To live in a world where auto-correct keeps changing "beloved" into
"believed," not knowing any better.
All poems reprinted with the permission of the author. Tim Liu's latest collection is Luminous Debris: New & Selected Legerdemain 1992-2017, from Barrow Street Press.