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  • Haibun: Spring, and: I Will End the Line of My Ancestors
  • Sally Wen Mao (bio)

poetry, seasons, war, trauma, family, violence, poetry, family, California, ancestry, father, mother, daughter, history, loneliness, broken promises

Haibun: Spring

Spring turns to summer, hopes fly high. A golden romance—in mybloody fists I smell osmanthus flowers. Under the pulped sun, loversgrow young and younger. Everyone kisses inside empty school buses,everyone says goodbye. Cheekbones that bruise outside incandesceinside. I can't stop sobbing in bed alone or with another. Riding bikesnext to the lake, hold my hands under the bridge. The first time ittouches me, the pink blossom revolts me. Winter stripped the willowbark bare. We pray the leaves will grow back. I can't read the namescarved on the tree—who are they? Did they survive?

Under the sun, lovers are revolting. Nurses in uniforms bring us IVs.We are all fainting. Is it hunger? Is it rage? Tear gas with its pepperyodor touches the petals falling across my thighs. My knee-high socks,my school uniform, my nosebleed. The chants grow louder and louder,the squadrons whistle. Batons, holsters, handcuffs, and then martiallaw. The screams, the spring, the safety line. Don't forget to drink water,my mother tells me. She begs me not to go but I go.

my hands are up, lungsfull of fish, Idrop my phone into the lake [End Page 28]

I Will End the Line of My Ancestors

Some days, I sail on an empty boat to a country I don't know.With my navy-blue passport, I can go anywhere.

This breaks my heart. I can be anywhere, and everywhereI left carries on without me.

In California, the drought whispers to the water:Come back. The San Andreas Fault creases like the fate

line in my palm. The one that's vertical. The onethat breaks at my wrist. The Santa Cruz Mountains

          from my childhood do not touchthe coast they pine for. Snow crowns          only their highest ridges.

I have always cherished this land that was not          mine. I have always cherished this landmine.

In Los Altos, my mother lives alone in a small studio          efficiency. Every day she wakes up on a bedI used to sleep in. I imagine her drinking coffee,

opening her laptop and searching the same websites          for a job. I imagine her boiling sweet potatoesalone, dreading dusk light and another wasted day.

In 1999, my mother had a malignant tumor removed          from her leg. In the hospital room,I remember staring at the needle          in her arm. At twelve, I promised                    I'd be good,                    I'd believe in God [End Page 29]

if she survived. Those days, my mother said she wanted          to die. The words always under her breath          but audible. She survived. She survived.

In Sunnyvale, my father lives alone in a three-story townhouse.Every day, he tries to lift the garage door whose sensors          have stopped working.Every day, he tries to repair the faucets, the showerheads,                    the washing machinewith his own hands. To fix          this would cost too much, he says. Health          insurance costs too much, he says.

On Sundays he goes to the free health clinic at Stanford.          Every day, he takes medication for his maladies.His heart, pumping the blood too slow. His lungs, the color          of storms and ashes. How long has this house                    been without electricity? How long will he long                    for what's absent?

Together, the three of us survived the passage here.          Apart now, the three of us          are each alone. That is the only thing left we have in common.You are still young, they tell me. You are still young.

It is spring. It is summer. It is fall. The nation votes          for the wound to keep gushing.I broke my hospital-room promises to God.I am not good. I do not believe. Love has a way          of not existing.

Some days, I recall where my ancestors were buried—          by a seaside city, near a smooth gray lake, its surface flat [End Page 30] like a mirror. I...


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