Swift steps in the night, a nylon bag slides across the floor.
Inside: plush toys, plastic robots
stickers, twigs, a worn white lamb, glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs.
I reach—a quick scramble
and you cocoon into my shoulder, a chrysalis son,
curved toes take root against your father.
All huddle under down and cotton.
I hold this pliant flesh, stroke this soft hair,
inhale the scent of sleep.
Your insect fingers work the yarn of a green blanket,
a nimble soothe to slumber.
Your father stirs, the low rumble of heavy sleep.
I stare into the night
drift into memory against the white walls,
toss back to four years ago.
February—the dry chill of a Los Angeles winter,
the long wait. Perched on a toilet seat
I twist my torso, dark mucous afloat in the water.
The inevitable has begun: I cry out in fear,
seek refuge in the arms of your father.
Pack, unpack, repack: I forget anyway—in hospital
my legs freeze, my torso burns.
Contortions and buckling.
Ferocious beyond control, I heave and shake,
leak and spew urine, vomit and blood.
I writhe in anguish, desire nothing but your arrival.
Yours, a fierce and determined birth—they all are.
Three days to the beginning and end.
I collapse with joy and relief.
In the early months, wide with hope
we ate belief—delicious, crisp, perfectly prepared.
We licked the salt and sucked the sweet of possibility
and before us loomed a bucolic idyll: rows of books,
endless forests, chills chased by fires,
a son to grow by our side.
We slept parallel—a tiny head touched one,
palm-size feet another. A family
flesh to flesh, our dreams punctuated by
dolphin chirps and sharp cries.
At breakfast you reached for light
as the Hippeastrum on the table arched
for the sun sprang from its bulb
in soft white glory,
the barest trace of pink.
The shift happened; we knew it would.
Your father—a man of early departure, late arrival,
toil that burns his sorrow to permanence.
His fatigue is etched in furrowed brows and bleary eyes,
oh, how he longs for escape!
Your mother—runs through days that dissolve in her mouth.
Feather lines now frame her eyes.
In exile from conversation and country
she retreats in determined isolation.
For both, the memory of homeland,
the distance of private suffering,
the sweetness buried under burdens.
They spit dollars and bills,
speak in syllables and fragments,
silently stumble forward
kicking thoughts that crush their breath, that slowly suffocate.
The sardonic laugh. The unspoken.
This love of crazy hope for something.
You, a child, the reason for everything.
The long day descends and always
the filth suffocates, drills holes in lungs,
shatters cells and years like glass.
We weep at brown skies.
This is Hong Kong.
In sleep we are free to reunite
as it should be.
The rise of dreaming bodies,
the kicks and wrinkled sheets.
A hand is squeezed, a forehead kissed.
The dreams, oh how they leak:
husband-to-wife, mother-to-son, son-to-father,
We breathe in each other’s sighs
wrapped in a familiar scent that
binds us in comfort and conflict.
This is the truth of flesh.
This is the silence of the night.
Lost in reverie, shocked by morning light,
the denial split by the sun.
We awaken to begin again and again,
fervid belief clasped and cupped
in defiance of what will come.
We are here! We are here!
A temporal halt to the end that lies at bay.
The fear: we will perish.
But for now we ride this hope—live this love
together and apart,
only in our sleep,
only in our dreams.
© Stephanie Han, 2011