Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Embroidery - Harrison Tao

Today is the 20th anniversary of my mother's passing away from melanoma, and I am taking "license" to post my elegiacal poem to her.   We had a complex relationship strained by the clashes caused by the challenges of raising me in two Western cultures (Brazilian and American) so dissimilar from our ancestral one.  Regardless, my own maturing (and a good therapist) has given me peace and perspective.  She loved me as best she knew how (and could) in a life that saw huge transformations and losses, and where her own needs and dreams went largely unfulfilled.  My mother was a strong and passionate person who deserved an easier and more rewarding emotional life than she ultimately lived.  She died angry and "raging against the dying of the light" (Dylan Thomas).   Whereas I was perturbed at the time, I now view the witnessing of her last breath as a gift. I love her and I miss her.  

As I get closer to - perhaps - "seeing" her again, I focus on how much love and affection she showed her only grandchild, my daughter.   Here is a link to a longer commentary.

The  Embroidery 
                                  to Lee Pik-Yuen (Lily Tao), 1916 - 1990

What song for a life of sorrows?
What sorrows steep within a tea?
What tea for partings without the proper song?

In less-than half the heartbeats you carried me within,
an obscene rebellion tunneling beneath the skin
collapsed all the familiar contours:
your body now a ladder of bones
in an emptying hospital room,
and the high-collar Shantung dresses,
slit-to-the-knee brocaded sheaths
of an abrupted youth and Shanghai sweets,                                                 
become an anonymous sheet
I would not let be pulled over your face.

So much was hidden already:
the unsupplicant kneelings by the carved chest
left in Brazil,
your tai chi-smooth splitting of the twin brass-locks
to raise the fishermen, the village,
the pavilion in the cloud,
to furlough, from a scented darkness,
song-birds straining their silk threads,
two  dazzling butterflies
flightless, though unpinned.

Contemplated for a pot or two,
yet always re-folded, never displayed,
you always camphored it away,
the creases deepening
unsmoothable as the choices made - 
strength to a weaker husband,
solace from a tended rose-bush:
a muted nightingale in an unlocked cage.

Your face now, moon-mottled and breath-less,
the eyes tranquil seas, finally,
this son, twice-born without a voice,
unfurls it now, pennant and shroud,
to sing you homeward
with words you would not recognize,
to return your ashes into steps.

Though there is no more pleasing,
I take the silence as approval:
I drink my fill, 
and call it tea.


The embroidery seen in the first photo hung in the space (the cinder-blocks with the black strip) between the two windows - the two pieces of plywood - in my bedroom.  (The fire started below it along that wall.)  The first photo is the only evidence it ever existed.  So it goes.... 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This poem is beautiful, Harrison.

"So much was hidden already..."

That line and others ("you always camphored it away") remind me of a passage in Kingsolver's The Lacuna - I can't find it now (of course! argh), but it's about how what is hidden is the most important thing about those we love (hence the title of the book.) I'll find it and post it (I hope - now I'm thinking I hallucinated it!)

Anyway,"The Embroidery" is lovely.