I’m Writing from the Other Side of the Universe to Ask You How the Weather Is
This is a soft rain, my father says, his forehead a creased encyclopedia page. It is mao mao yu in Chinese, syllables like the three most breakable bones in the human ear. No, let me try again. It is mao mao yu in Chinese, syllables like a caterpillar nuzzling your finger. Bear with me — this translation starves me of grace. My words shudder from the womb, dragon-thighed, chicken-necked, no beauty, no beauty.
We are surrounded by it: water reincarnated into a silver body, water tugging the mind to slow magic. But I lost my Chinese a decade ago, shed it like a dying skin. Metaphor is not enough to build the bridge. We talk at each other, approaching the speed of sound. Our lips could lift off our faces, marry the rainclouds.
Poetry cannot be our time travel. Chinese has no verb tenses, forever a liminal past-present-future commingling. But English is cleaved, all action potential or kinetic, in motion, having been in motion, or reaching the point of motion very, very soon. And so, as our conversation accelerates, tries to leap through time, we are spinning light years away from each other.
“This is a soft rain,” my father says, his forehead a page worn to thread and pulp. It is mao mao yu in Chinese. I take his hand. I am thinking of my baby-teeth years, when the language was just another pearl in my mouth. Before he wore these wrinkles, my father bit the tips off sunflower seeds, filled bowls of them for me. He was terrified they would scratch the roof of my mouth. He was always thinking of what might scar me. I nod. This is mao mao yu. This is enough. This is enough.