On the 42nd Anniversary of My Father’s Swim from China, 10/17/2015
Suspended between shores, you watch your friends
tire, disappear beneath bluish-black waters, never
to resurface. When you agreed to swim together,
you promised to keep going, even if some could not go on.
Someone must reach the shore of freedom. This journey
must not be in vain.
You keep swimming, your family’s voices echoing
from the home you left, your son and daughter’s faces
etched on clouds. Your limbs grow heavier after the first hour.
You keep time by the shifting sky, one arm, one leg moving
after the other, strong strokes slicing cold Tai Pang Bay.
Salt slides from your eyelashes; the sun is a blinking siren.
Spotting a shark fin in the distance, you quiet your strokes,
your eyes still on Hong Kong. Even the fear of being eaten alive
cannot stop you. You want to live to see your babies grow up,
to grow old with your wife. You cannot fail, as a man,
as the head of your family. You keep swimming, believe
your blood father is watching, the father you never knew.
You must keep swimming to rewrite history. His early death
will not be yours. You will live, even though your legs
feel like sacks of rice. You believe there is something
stronger than exhaustion. This is why you continue
to kick towards freedom. This is why you won’t stop
until your feet touch shallow ground again.
This is love spanning generations of blood,
red legacies that will survive shark bites, the ghosts
of family secrets. You must keep swimming
to reach the shore where you will be reborn,
a tiger emerging.
I once loved a man without fear, loved him so hard
I crushed him with the limo-sized love I gave every day.
His cold heart tried to warm, the comfort I offered
hardened him more. He flung himself against the door
until he escaped, leaving me.
Once Daddy left the front door unlocked.
Three years old, I wandered outside
down the front stairs, down the narrow
concrete path not yet ragged after years
of weather and feet beating. I wandered
to the driveway where the long dark blue
Lincoln began to back up. I just wanted
to say goodbye.
Mommy saw the open door. She knew.
She ran, ran to find my small
hand reaching out to touch
the back bumper of the Lincoln.
Daddy braked, sudden, when he saw
Mommy standing behind the car,
slowly holding me up, me waving.
Daddy silenced the ignition.
I was the baby daughter then,
the American diamond daughter,
first American born, showing signs
of spunk and diva, shaking hands
of strangers without fear,
dancing and singing like the birds
I loved to watch through windows.
Today I fear cars backing up
and not seeing me. I curse pedestrians
wearing dark clothes at night.
“HOW DO YOU EXPECT ANYONE TO SEE YOU?”
I shout inside my car, knowing
they can’t hear me.
Mommy hugged me so tight. She could have
crushed me. She tells me her heart almost
stopped. Voice shaking, she shudders
when she thinks what if. She tells me
they lit incense, bowed to the ancestors
for sparing my life.