Write a Letter to Your Mother About Your Longest Winter
If writing had any real power, I could write my mother
a letter that said, No second heart surgery because the first
was enough, & the period at the end of this sentence
would make sure of it. I could cross out the word pain
& it would die on the spot.
At the very least, Mom, I could make this letter go
fetch you the soundtrack to Titanic, your favorite movie.
& not just any version of the soundtrack—this letter
would recover the CD we once had, the one that's
probably buried now under a pile of dead cockroaches
in one of our shitty old apartments. This letter
would dig out & play that original CD to you,
including of course Celine Dion's "My Heart Will
Go On"— as many times as you want.
& then this letter would bring Jack back from death
so he could slow dance with Rose, at ninety,
because even though it's your favorite, you always
say at the end, I'm sick of sad endings.
Alright, maybe no letter, no combination of words—
even when the Great Combiner is Du Fu or Dickinson
or Dion's songwriting team—can stop Jack from dying
or you. & maybe, Mom,
you don't need this letter to stop or bring or do
anything for you. You don't need my words to save you.
See, I'm thinking back to those winter months
we—you, Dad, Lin, Conan, & me—spent waiting,
glad, yet afraid too, for the day of your surgery.
I'm thinking now of the night you simply went out,
left the house & all the you-okay's, you-sure's,
do-you-need-help's. & when you came back—
slippers, a pair you bought just for you. They were
new slippers to better shield your feet from cold floors,
companion slippers you wore even in bed & took off
only when you had to, coveted slippers you would
catch Dad trying on, trying to steal from you because
they were damn nice slippers, lined with fake fur
& real bliss. & maybe you don't need me to write this,
but I want this letter to celebrate it: how righteous,
how glorious-ferocious your shouting at Dad was—
Those are mine, stupid! My slippers! Uh huh, mine!
Don't act like you don't know! Give them back!
& how glorious the glee on your face, when you
got them back, the giggly bliss
when you slipped—one foot, then the other—
back into them.
- Chen Chen (from Maps For Teeth)