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The last time I saw my grandmother Po alive,
she wore brown twill slacks, a thin apron,
perfume of water lily, ginger, jasmine.
Now her face is bloated, rounder than I remember.
Hair white at the roots, tips still purple
from her do-it-at-home dye kit.
Tubes removed from her throat; the army of machines
stands down. My grandfather bent over her body,
anointing her cheek with tiger balm,
repeating yesterday we were shopping,
yesterday we were grocery shopping. I imagine them
pushing a cart down an aisle of apples.
Grandfather's fingers trace the deep lines of Po's hands,
the words come softly through his lips
won't be long till I am walking with you.
I see first Po's bound feet under the sheet:
crippled since infancy, finally resting.
Obsolete relics, long abandoned.
How many times I unwrapped layered strips
of cotton to wash her toes with mild soap,
soaking them in warm water and chamomile.
Tonight, in the bathtub, I will bend my toes under,
imitating Po's bandages with a wet washcloth, releasing
my feet back into the steaming water like freed fish.
Later I will learn how the doctors shocked Po's
fragile body on the count of one, two, three,
the way she rose into the air, for a moment suspended
I am too young to know complicated tears.
Motionless at her side I do only what a grandchild
does for a grandmother before parting—
I lean down to her cooling forehead
and kiss it.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.