[ ]

by Shan Rao

My grandmother was learning to die when I was born.

Age 56 they say (maybe)
no one can be sure, those records not kept
carefully. [Lung cancer; cells spoiling.]. In my first
memories, I am sitting on her silent bed stacking
stuffed bears against the headboard.

I have never known my grandmother’s name.

[Or, perhaps I knew it once, in a time before I could speak, when syllables mushed together in a kind of half-baked soup. I do remember her in the kitchen, though I am unsure how much is fiction more than memory—the lid to the film chamber left slightly ajar, images infiltrated by churning sunlight that swirls and obliterates.]

I am 21 before I learn that she was a pilot
in India [I do not know what for, how
she became]. In the only picture I’ve seen she is near,
death, wrapped tightly in a scarf, a leaf of a woman,

desperate to drift away. In my memories, there is no face, no

Age nothing, she names me: middle name Vidya
(for knowledge; for hope). For a girl in America! She is in love
with the Macy’s ribbons, soft ties for floating curls. One
day (age something) my father tells me I look like her
                                                                            [to me this means I look like empty air]

Gold necklace [warped chain too thick]. I carry you around my neck
each day, nameless faceless woman. I do not carry the memory,
but I have heard a story: age one, small ceremony on velvet
towels, I crawl between bowls. Taatas toss peaches, shake books;
I am smiling; I am flying toward you, reaching for gold,

reaching for the memory of your arms.