Chinese Singing

Eileen Chong

after Li-Young Lee

My grandmother cannot read
the words dancing across the screen,
lighting up in time with the music.

She sings from memory,
in the dialect of her youth:
the two of us walk in the rain

sharing a single small umbrella.
If my grandfather were alive
he would light a cigarette and draw

breath until the end glowed
into a fiery red, saying nothing.
It is my father’s turn, and he handles

the microphone as if it’s an old friend.
Beside the road, beneath the banyan tree
is a place I think of often. My mother smiles

and mouths the words in Mandarin,
soundlessly. She too cannot read Chinese.
The tranquil skies and the balmy breezes,

the sweet scent of the grass. I hear only
snatches of meaning in the few words
I understand. Meanwhile, I think on

the puzzle of my grandparents, fertile
and warm, lying together in the dark.
Of my parents, young, newly-burdened

and afraid, whispering each other to sleep.
The rain falls around us with great intensity.
We must walk with care, under the one small umbrella.

It is my turn to sing. I don’t know
any Chinese songs, so I sing in English.
My family is listening.

 
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