Formosan Elegy

for Charles

You have lived six decades     and you have lived none
You have loved many     and you have loved no one
You wedded three wives       but you lie in your cold bed alone
You sired four children     but they cannot forgive you

Knock at emptiness    a house without your love
Strike the pine box     no answer    all hollow
You planted plums near the gate     but they bear no fruit
You raised herbs in the veranda     fresh and savory

I cry for you     but no sound wells up in my throat
I sing for you     but my tears have dried in my gullet
Walk the old dog     give the budgies a cool bath
Cut a tender melon     let it bleed into memory

The robe you washed     hangs like a carcass flayed
The mug you loved       is stained with old coffee
Your toothbrush is silent        grease mums your comb
Something's lost        something's made strong

Around the corner    a new prince yearns to be loved
A fresh turn of phrase       a bad strophe erased
A random image       crafts itself into a poem
A sleepless Taipei night       a mosquito's symphony

Who will cry for you    me and your sister Colette
Who will cry for you    me and your Algerian sister
You were a rich man    but you held on to your poverty
You were a poor man    who loved gold over dignity

I sit near your body bag       and sing you a last song
I sit near your body bag      and chant your final sutra
What's our place on earth?     nada       nada       nada
What's our destiny?       war     grief     maggots     nada

Arms      cheeks    cock     femur    eyelids    nada
Cowl     ox      lamb     vellum    marrow    nada
Vulva      nada     semen    nada    ovum    nada
Eternity     nada       heaven    nada    void    nada
Birth and death the same blackened womb
Birth and death the same white body bag
Detach     detach we enter the world alone
Detach     detach we leave the world bone lonely

If we can't believe in god       we must believe in love
We must believe in love       we must believe in love
And they zip you up        in your white body bag
White body bag        white    white     body       bag

Marilyn Chin, "Formosan Elegy" from Hard Love Province. Copyright © 2014 by Marilyn Chin. Used by permission of the author and W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Source: Hard Love Province (W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2014)