a poem for my mom – 5.12.19

媽媽, 沒有你我該怎麼辦。我愛你啊 。

when other moms
took their children
to the zoo
or the museum,
my mother took me to
Macy’s.

i would play hide and seek
in between the circular
metal racks,
slide my tiny arms between
blouses,
dance my way
between high heels
that i was sure
i would never grow into.

sometimes,
when mommy would pile
clothes onto her arms
and bring them into the
fitting room,
i would shuffle in behind her,
sit on the tiny bench meant for
putting down your purse and
plastic card with black bolded numbers
that never fit
on the door handle.
i learned how to be patient
on those trips.

when other moms
took their children
to the park
or watched them
run in the yard,
my mother took me to the
pharmacy.

i would sit on tall
wooden stools
meant for grown people with
grown legs
and fast-typing fingers.
i would watch the technicians
pull bottles from shelves
and place them in bubble packs.
i learned how to send a fax
in that pharmacy.

sometimes,
when mommy was really busy,
i would pace back and forth in the
hallway, to the kitchen,
and back to mommy’s office.
i learned how to
black out confidential information,
savored the moments when i was
considered
responsible enough
to put stickers on packages and line them up in
bags for delivery to
carehomes around the city.

when other moms
could be home,
and talk to their children
about their days,
my mother
was at the pharmacy,
or the hospital.

i would wonder,
why were these people
who were not me
more important?
i never asked,
and she never brought it up.
i learned how unspoken things
can hurt too.

sometimes,
when mommy was working late,
and could not come home
in time for dinner,
dad cooked.
he did that a lot.
when this happened,
sometimes, but not all the time,
i would be
angry with her.
i would call her cell phone,
the pharmacy, her cell again,
leave a voicemail.

i just wanted her
home.

i remember nights
sitting in the dining room,
waiting for the sounds of
the garage squeaking open.
i played this game by myself,
ran to unlock the door before
i could hear the jingle of her keys.

when other moms
told their children to
go to bed,
my mother let me
stay awake with her as she
ate what was leftover.

i would sit across the
table
and put things on my plate,
so she wouldn’t
eat alone.
maybe that’s why i am
always hungry
late into the night.

sometimes,
when mommy told me
to get ready for bed after eating
a second time,
i would drag my feet,
lay on the couch and tell her
i needed to digest because i didn’t
want to leave yet.
i learned how to love someone
without saying it on those nights.

mommy and i only started
saying we loved each other
in the last couple years,
when our armor was down,
after we let ourselves
laugh about things that hurt us before.
we are close in a way
only a daughter can be with her mother.
i am not angry
or hurt
or sad
anymore—
just grateful that i have a mother
who loved me enough
to bring me wherever she
needed to be
and still thought of me
when she couldn’t.

my mother

my mother never stops working;
even in retirement,
she’s never retired.

sometimes tired,
she doesn’t hide it;
let’s me know it now.

tired like she never had bound feet,
but had to bind her dreams;
had to trade pushing pens and paper to pushing pills,
tired.

tired like she raised a family
out of breath and bones and brains,
tired.

tired like watching your children leave the nest,
and trying not to worry about the rest
of our lives,
tired.

my mother,
tired,
but alive.

alive like ginger and ginseng,
homemade remedies I used to cringe at,
but now long for,
alive.

alive like the trembling quake of her snore
that reverberates down hallways
through ear drums,
and keeps me awake,
alive.

alive like no man could ever hurt me the way
my mom and dad love me,
alive.

alive like they tried to stomp us out,
to make our exclusion legal,
and keep our arms empty,
alive.

my mother,
never stops working;
loves and lives
as if every hour she does
she is paid in full;
is tired,
but living and alive and loved.

my mother.

toastmasters

in fifth grade she stumbled in;
met blonde-haired,
blue-eyed
America.

traded calligraphic characters,
ink and brush,
for foreign-sounding syllables,
exchanging L’s and R’s
like she could trade her accent for respect.

changed her name to something more
pronounceable.
didn’t know that
her name wasn’t the only foreign thing about her.

fast forward years and lives and loves later.

she still stumbles,
catches herself,
but questions nothing.

she is told to make speeches,
writes the sentences herself,
recites words from memory;

asks for my help,
but she does not need it.

she knows
she does not need to sound perfect
to have something to say.