The Angel I Never Knew

In loving memory of Chen Shanjuan

The only photo I’ve seen of you is black and white
But every time I think of you,
I think light-

Like sunlight,
The way it triumphs the night every single morning to rouse my windows
Brushing through my hair, dusting my eyelids awake;
Like candlelight,
My sister’s fingers quivering as she lights yet another Ecoya,
Its flicker caressing her breath, lulling her pupils aglow,
So I wonder if maybe all the light in the world once gathered to hold hands
Just so you could wear it,
And I think,
Nai nai must have had the brightest halo.

I think flight,
The way father and I migrated like birds;
He, 35, packed his life into a suitcase and flew across the ocean,
And I, 18, crossed a sea to take it a step further-
Together spanning three countries,
Never once questioning why we so longed to soar,
And I think,
Nai nai must have owned a sweeping pair of wings.

I wonder if one day we were to somehow meet,
And you saw me for the first time without knowing, you’d recognise me anyway;
Perhaps from the length of my fingers, the slant of my eyes, the swell of my hips,
All speaking inexplicably like home;
If you’d listen to my voice and
Even swathed within another language,
Hear your echo in its timbre.
You see, these legacies must have originated somewhere-
Your heirlooms must have propagated somehow.

Nai nai, I write a lot now.
I spent a childhood listening to father’s stories,
Catching the words that fell from his tongue,
(Were they yours once, I wonder?)
And now I knit my own tales, with my own happily ever afters,
Ones I’ll someday pass on to my children.
But oh, how lovely it’d be if I could alter them instead,
Because if I had the chance to rewrite your story,
I’d have changed the ending a thousand times over.

So from now on, I’ll think white,
The colour of polished enamel.
Maybe I chose a lifetime of fixing smiles,
Just so I could write the way you laughed onto as many faces as possible,
Because if one day
Someone who had known you told me
There was something even vaguely familiar about the curve of my lips,
I don’t think I’d ever stop smiling.

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37 thoughts on “The Angel I Never Knew

  1. birdyfullmoon says:

    thank you so much… you took me away… you honored all of our grand and great grand people… you stand at the moment where then and now and then again shine their love in simultaneous eternity.

    Liked by 4 people

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