counting past ten in various languages

Today’s is a long ‘un, thanks to the prompt (“memory”) coinciding with me waking up way too early for my taste (especially after indulging in two post-midnight visits to the museum — my thanks to Mary for drawing my attention to the prompts). It wasn’t until at least fifteen minutes later that I realized, “Oh, it’s April 9. Maybe last night’s freaky bubble tea isn’t to blame…”

From Poem A Day Drafts
Click images to enlarge ’em

Missing Characters

This morning, I woke up muttering, “Ba,”
after a nightmare about practicing Chinese.
“Ba” is half of the word for “Daddy.”
Mine would have been sixty-eight today.
His ashes are still in my closet. Mom’s too.
She died last year, the week before Easter,
and glad as I am that they didn’t live
to witness the economy’s current throes
(the anxiety would have finished them off
even more unpleasantly than the cancers did),
my body keeps reminding me that grief
doesn’t have to make sense. That it can be
larger than love or loyalty, no matter
how much the mind resigns itself, makes peace
with what our family failed to be —
a peace I must repair again and again
at every funeral I attend where the kids
remember being loved for who they actually are,
or when I stop by China Dragon and
can manage only “shay shay” in Mandarin
when I pick up my quart of General Tso’s chicken.
Last spring, as I emptied out my mother’s house,
I e-mailed my brother list after list
of things I wanted to make sure he
was okay with me hauling out to the curb,
but I also told him if I came across
the notebooks from those futile years
of Chinese sessions with Mom, I would reach
for a match and the gallon jug of gasoline
without waiting for him to write back.

For someone notorious as a brainy kid,
I’ve turned out to be a late bloomer:
it wasn’t until college that I finally grasped
how musical intervals worked, in spite
of violin lessons since I was seven.
I didn’t cook much of anything
until my marriage, and only now
am I getting the hang of prepositions
in French, a language I did business in
for over two years. So I think it’s okay
for me to hope the next time I study Chinese,
more of it will stick, like good rice
and stupid jokes and the occasional memory
that doesn’t make me flinch or squirm.
Much of what Mom had never thrown away
was of the “Oh dear God, what NOW?” variety —
herbal pellets predating my brother’s birth
(I used them to line a box of his documents),
a fossilized pastry purloined from the clinic,
coffee from a 1990s flight to Japan —
but I also found the sewing journal
I now store next to my father’s dissertation
and while I didn’t save Dad’s old pajamas —
the ones I’d donned to read aloud to my brother
when he was small enough to be scared
at Dad being in the hospital — one of the times
Mom laughed at me without disdain or despair,
even though she then had to re-wash the pajamas
before she could take them to Dad — you see
how there’s too much to keep as it is?
I snipped out a square of the faded cotton
and taped it into the steno pad
I’d swiped from one of Mom’s many stashes
to note down all the things I was throwing away.

– pld

Process postscript: I made a boatload of tweaks as I typed the poem into the comment box, and that was with multiple interruptions, so there will likely be a raft more to be made once I’m in the mood to revise this some more. In the meantime, I expect (hope!) to be Away From Keyboard until Monday night, so here’s wishing you a happy festival of your choice (and/or festivity and/or general frolicking) as the week wends toward its end. 🙂

2 thoughts on “counting past ten in various languages

  1. I like how the speaker interrupts themselves with the “you see / how there’s too much to keep as it is?” successfully inacting the subject matter. Go, Peg!

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