For my first friend in America

Your hand covers mine

we clasp for the camera and smile a 100 watt smile

The American Way

I have learned

how to park a truck

that pale legs are not

as anathema in Texas as in Cannes

I understand, ordering drinks you size up

trying clothes, you size down

topsy-turvy world for a foreigner

lost in her baggage claim.

You made me feel

easy and comfortable like an adirondack chair

smooth wood, deep grain, eccentric shape

this became my town and in so many ways

it was thanks to you taking the time

to show me the way to fit in

the candles dim in the windows of the bar

as if they know you are now gone

where the bird died and we buried it

flowers grow up and a little crepe myrtle

as if forever our steps, will be marked here

mountain laurel blooms wildly

across splayed streets replete with thin cats

seeking their breakfast at Taco huts, the color of watermelon

where I ate among the gladioli without fear.

In the beginning

you were like Tiger Balm

rubbed over my fear, I was no longer shivering

could make my way through the throng

as good as anyone

your watchful eyes on my narrow back

seeing how I did, urging me onward

how will I continue with you gone?

Family, you said, comes from the heart

you may find someone you love in the strangest places

I found you in a Chinese buffet eating Won Tong soup

in my skinny jeans and piss and vinegar

you asked me if I used to be a dancer

I said yes, and now I unravel for a living

you took under your wing, that juniper girl who

didn’t know how to fit in to her new clothes

taught her the measure of her adopted land

like the time we planted trees and you warned

never forget to be merciful, to those less fortunate

the sky was pure blue that day, on the wind

the smell of honeysuckle and river lily

white cranes flew languidly overhead

we shared Limeade and Tortas, our feet dipping in hot puddles

I recall

the first time you were sick

I said, you reminded me of my grandmother

and you frowned; I’m not old enough!

But what I meant was

she had a strength, nobody else could see

every time I went to school she’d wait

in her high-waisted pants of crepe or wool

tight curled hair, wearing oversized sunglasses

below the stairs, nodding with a wink

mouthing the words; You got this

and I’d go into my classroom with a 100 watt smile

not fearful anymore

nobody saw that side of her, just as

people dismissed you as a Jesus Freak

seeing past the strength of your resolve

to live with love

I admire those; who have mercy and compassion

I look to those; who are loyal and unafraid to love

it is the weave of this girl, to follow in those footsteps

bring kindness, do good, lend yourself to gentleness

when I grew sick I saw, how many live with

anger and resentment, undoing their humanity

until they are unrecognizable and only breathe

the exhaust of their bitterness.

To the rose

opening this day

after your passing

I say, O glory, O beauty

live in the sun

as radiant and perfect as anything I have known

and I hear your voice, see your face nodding

you got this

I want to run backward and say

please don’t leave me, don’t go

but I know you have to

and I have to go on

alone but holding your wisdom

your mercy

in those lessons you left

imprinted upon my heart.

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Iris Chang (part of the #unsung heroes series)

Iris-Chang-264x400

Why must the insightful carry the greatest weight?

in their teeth like a bit crunching down until they break

teeth all over the place, white against the dark

enamel lasts long after we are gone

your words are never broken Iris

the love others held for you cannot be undone

by spectacle or ire, you are immune now

as beautiful as you were in life your memory not forgotten

eulogized in statues and prophecy, courage in bronze

such is the legacy of those who live to help others

you shone a light where no light had been shone

perhaps it invited unbidden demons and the silk worm

perhaps it made you mad and rageful in Louisville

who can say what fuse is lit, how long it burns or

whether others haunt us to our fatal choice?

but who would not feel horror when unveiled

the gruesome atrocity of what humans are capable

your Nanking chronicles, bravely revealed

blowing your silver whistle over lies

whether secret hands held you down

commanding, speak not, no more truth released

or you became absorbed in the tragedy you wrote

my hope is you gaze down, aware of the love held

your beautiful face gracing the cover of your mom’s book

a legacy unfurling, one step, two, ever more

you will always rise higher than you thought

such is the way of the guide

needing sometimes to turn from her gift back to the world

to see the beauty held in their own

reflection

 

“The woman who could not forget: Iris Chang before and beyond The Rape of Nanking by Ying-Ying Chang (mom) and The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang.”

part of the hash-tag #unsung (heroes) series.