Certainty

Perhaps you can tell children that the world is always a more beautiful place than you can suppose,

and then you release them into their future, the black row of trees in the distance. 

She died suddenly in midwinter, in the same bed in which her husband died years earlier; it still sagged on his side. Her second husband remained in Japan with his first family. 

She used to say, what my three girls do when they are on their own is unimaginable to me. 

My mother is the middle daughter, a garden of inaudible tunes. The four of them lived in a mean house in Seoul. 

One yellowing picture of my grandmother remains, and her face turns away from the camera, as the rabbit senses the hound; 

she was said to be a solitary eater, an inner thing. What did she promise the world that she wasn’t able to make good on? 

A child who abruptly feels the frontiers of experience assert themselves in her: at the funeral my mother cries so hard she can’t feel her hands for days, 

it explains how she scratches herself raw, meaningless. 

You have always believed these are your themes: fate, the negative pleasures of dipping oneself in acid. 

You think it will rescue you from your simplicity, remarks my mother from the doorway, but art is never the ace in the hole. 

I am not a stupid child. I am not even a child any longer, with her hesitant, then terrible certainty, that loss is tragic, not only pointless. 

When she is lonely, my mother cooks; and when she is happy, she knows to hide it. 

“Certainty" from The Wilderness: Poems.  Copyright © 2014 by Sandra Lim.  Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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