Afterward (in memory of my grandmother)

by Camilla Chen


How did it happen?

Ten hours and ten minutes more

but the day has ended, and I see you:

shoes still on your feet, and your clothes,

all the colours out of place against the mortuary walls.


I remember: The way you’d hold my hand

in both of yours, the way you’d ask, smiling,

????  *



The night is eloquent

but I have hemmed myself in.


No words to give

so I fold paper and

feed it to the fire,


watching flames lick

through the petals,

each incense structure


curling and crumbling,

slowly collapsing

into ash.


I remember: Sunday afternoons at your store,

you teaching me how to count out change

and letting me sit in your storekeeper’s armchair



When they sing

it’s part of the ritual.

I don’t understand the dialect,

your dialect, but I close my eyes

as the voices lift, soar, dip,

in a language of grief

that requires no translation.


I remember: Dinner with you,

your cooking fragrant as you urged us on,

eat, eat, eat generously, eat more.



It’s a beautiful morning today

and we’re sending you off.


In my head I try to talk to you,

think of the things I would have

liked to say to you, imagine

how you would have answered.


I remember: Once asking your age

and not having enough fingers and toes

for your sixty six years.



We watch from behind a glass panel

as you make your last journey alone,

slowly, in a box on a track, into the crematorium.


When we emerge the sky is the brightest it’s been in days

I remember your smile, the creases around your eyes,

the way your hands were always cool and dry.


Nobody says a thing on the way back

But when we smile with the tears still in our eyes

I hope you know we’re thinking of you.



??, ???????, ???.  **



* Ni hao ma? – How are you?


** Wai po, ni hao ma? / Wo hen hao, wo hen hao. -Grandma, how are you? / I’m fine, I’m doing fine.