for the anniversary of my grandfather’s memorial

Let me construct for you some images.

I am five years old. I am watching my grandfather drink tea at a large wooden table surrounded by a floor of rocks. This is the place where everyone drinks tea, where everyone sits and talks, cracking watermelon seeds between their conversations. My grandfather takes a slow sip from his cup. “Ahhhhh…” he says. I take a sip from my juice. “Ahhhhh…” I echo. This is the way we drink tea and juice, my grandfather and me.

I am nine old. I am sculpting with my grandfather. He shows me how to make a clay fish. Flatten the clay, fold it over, pinch apart the lips, fins and scales. He tells me my fish is too skinny, they are supposed to be big-bellied fish. But I tell him I want my fish to be long and thin so it can swim fast through the water. He tells me to make my fish however I want.

I am fifteen years old. I am upstairs in my grandparent’s attic, watching as my grandfather shows me how to blend skies on a canvas with blue and white paint. It’s all about the gradual gradient, don’t go too quickly, he tells me. Slow, slow it down. Don’t think too much.

I am twenty years old, and home from college for the summer. I hear my grandfather singing as he waters the garden in a large hawaiian shirt. He walks slowly and deliberately, taking in the beauty of each flower, which he lets grow in all directions. I wish him a good morning. He responds, “Karen, Good Morning!” and continues singing.

During his life, my grandfather constructed images in paints, rocks, ink, and clay. He brought to life characters. Singers and lovers, dancers, mothers and nuns. He brought to life moments. A walk through the fields in the fall, the wind rustling through golden fields. I do not have his same talent, but I hope I’ve painted for you an image of what he taught me, of what he meant to me as a grandfather, as an artist, and now a muse.

Today, I am twenty-two years old. I am away in America for my last year of college, and I am not there for my grandfather’s memorial. My heart is broken, but I will take long sips of tea. I will make my life skinny and long or round and fat, it doesn’t matter. I will move slowly through the changes, and not over think. My grandfather was a painter, a sculptor, and a calligrapher, but he was also a teacher. Many of you here today know him as Teacher Su, and although I called him grandfather, I am no exception. These are the lessons my grandfather taught me, and these are the images I will always cherish.

On the train

On the train after a long overdue visit to my grandfather,
I look out the window and see a cemetery in the distance,
a human presence in artificial rock climbing an overgrown hill,
its granite steps to heaven falling short by a couple feet.

These stones and their tenants sleep as we speed away,
and I turn my attention back inside the carriage.
There is warmth and light here, and sound.

Are we there yet?

The weakening heartbeat of tired wheels flatline
at an intermediate station. Some passengers alight,
lighting a cigarette as they step back into their lives.
Others board and take their empty seats
and we all check our phones, religiously,
for the time.

How much longer do we have?

Then the train, slow as an illness, grinds to a new start,
continuing on its journey as if nothing had changed.