Heaven

By Cathy Song b. 1955 Cathy Song
He thinks when we die we’ll go to China.
Think of it—a Chinese heaven   
where, except for his blond hair,   
the part that belongs to his father,   
everyone will look like him.
China, that blue flower on the map,   
bluer than the sea
his hand must span like a bridge   
to reach it.
An octave away.

I’ve never seen it.
It’s as if I can’t sing that far.
But look—
on the map, this black dot.
Here is where we live,
on the pancake plains
just east of the Rockies,
on the other side of the clouds.
A mile above the sea,
the air is so thin, you can starve on it.   
No bamboo trees
but the alpine equivalent,
reedy aspen with light, fluttering leaves.   
Did a boy in Guangzhou dream of this   
as his last stop?

I’ve heard the trains at night
whistling past our yards,
what we’ve come to own,
the broken fences, the whiny dog, the rattletrap cars.   
It’s still the wild west,
mean and grubby,
the shootouts and fistfights in the back alley.   
With my son the dreamer
and my daughter, who is too young to walk,   
I’ve sat in this spot
and wondered why here?
Why in this short life,
this town, this creek they call a river?

He had never planned to stay,   
the boy who helped to build   
the railroads for a dollar a day.   
He had always meant to go back.   
When did he finally know
that each mile of track led him further away,   
that he would die in his sleep,   
dispossessed,
having seen Gold Mountain,
the icy wind tunneling through it,
these landlocked, makeshift ghost towns?

It must be in the blood,   
this notion of returning.
It skipped two generations, lay fallow,
the garden an unmarked grave.
On a spring sweater day   
it’s as if we remember him.   
I call to the children.   
We can see the mountains   
shimmering blue above the air.
If you look really hard
says my son the dreamer,
leaning out from the laundry’s rigging,   
the work shirts fluttering like sails,   
you can see all the way to heaven.

Cathy Song, “Heaven” from Frameless Windows, Squares of Light. Copyright © 1988 by Cathy Song. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Frameless Windows, Squares of Light (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1988)

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Poet Cathy Song b. 1955

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Religion, History & Politics, Youth, Travels & Journeys, Home Life, Death, Jobs & Working, Parenthood, Living, Relationships, Activities, Social Commentaries

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 Cathy  Song

Biography

Poet Cathy Song was born and raised in Hawaii and is of Korean and Chinese descent. Her work  draws on her rich Korean-Chinese ancestry as well as her experiences as an American and a woman. In poems that have been compared by critics to the muted tints of watercolor paintings, Song has consistently created a world rich with narrative and imagery that transcends her own ethnic and regional background. Song herself resists . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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