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In passing
  1. Lauren Kelley-Chew
  1. Correspondence to Lauren Kelley-Chew, 4233 Parkman Ave, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA; laurenkc{at}

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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

like flying,

like falling.

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.

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.