For Halo

My debt rests in your fur

as they light it

and it burns

and your form shrinks

from this world

your black and white paw limp against my clutching

fingers wishing you here

those images are cookie cut into my mind

called intrusive thoughts and flash-backs

I know them well

they are not my friend as you were my friend

I imagine what you feel and then recall

you no longer feel anything

though that does not seem right

without religion I am left unknowing

where you land next or if you will

awaken in paradise or remain slumbering

whether sleep or a void, if we can truly leave

and have nothing of ourselves remain

but ash and debris

it seems impossible that you were once

jumping onto the table and making me laugh

with your antics

only to be nowhere and gone eternal

I may not possess sufficient faith

to build castles in the sky but

your energy stays like stillness in

this empty house and from the corner of my eye

I still see your shadow slink just as

my grandmother’s voice is pitch perfect in my head

is that imagination or wishful?

Or do ghosts haunt us willing supplicants?

A bouquet of delusion to soothe our empty

arms or

will you live forever within me? And when I take

my turn at the Ferris wheel

our nothingness will reside near one another

I like the idea, all I have loved will

mingle as returned starlight in the ether

and touch one another with reminder

for being alone or worm food is

a cold dinner companion I wish not

to believe in

even if God turns his head from me and always has

for his man-made lack of female

and my rib is long and sticks into my gut

reminding me I am ever every man’s equal

and will never lay down to those dull prescriptions

of what constitutes truth from a man’s tongue.

Your fur was thicker than all the cats here

who grew up hot and listless on porches

you came with me in a pink plastic box

obscene in its garishness we laughed

putting it through customs

the harried lady at flight desk remarked

well there he goes as you were taken

hand delivered, to the pit of the plane

and I worried because I wanted you to be

on my knee but no madam, I’m afraid for long haul

he has to ride in cargo and don’t worry

few of them get upset, as if she were crouched among you knowing this

this seemed false as so many things do

when big decisions linger like absent friends

at the periphery of moments

too quick, too big, for staying still

briefly I wondered; Should I really be moving?

to this strange country I do not yet know and

burning this bridge indefinitely

it felt as wrong as right ever was and I stood

in the airport watching the thin man take you

behind a curtain and then as you were on your way

so was I.

You see …

I took my cue from you

quite often

and of the two of us when we landed

I think you looked less bedraggled

whilst I fought with immigration because one of my papers

was not ‘just so’ and they called and fussed because

immigrants are not very welcome in any country

and annoy those whose jobs it is to ensure

smooth sailing

and when we reunited

on different soil with the sound of cicadas or crickets

I was not sure in those days

you were hot against my grandmothers blanket

and had peed because they don’t let animals

out to the bathroom at 30,000 feet

which was exactly how I felt, hot and wet and stinking

at the same time, in this odd place where

people were outgoing and spurned shyness or other

attributes we both possessed

with aplom

following our dreams or maybe just mine

as your dreams were about mice or pigeons and later

lizards and snakes

as you learned the ways of the desert

and perhaps the tenor of your meow changed

to reflect the inflection of your adopted country.

It may seem easier but it is not easy for any of us

who come by boat, plane or smuggle, to

lands not our own, we each bring with us

that belly full of ache

and you were always able to

soothe mine with your purr and ever

reminder of our start beneath colder skies and

smaller streets with littler houses and narrow

rooms where we knew our place and here

we could only speculate or clumsily test

our sea legs against

the strangeness of being

with mistake and estrangement

our sole friends quite a while.

Unable even to drive I walked you down the road

for your first vet check and people gaped

from their large cars at the floundering Europeans

walking where no-one walks and everyone uses

big trucks to go one mile and purchase a giant

sippy cup and some Ding Dongs, things with

names that sound fun and 40 additives

my kind of humor and banter lost against

surge of habit, the vet seemed surprised I

had carried you rather than driven and tut-tutted

at your lack of dental hygiene

but remarked how beautiful your thick fur was

and how cats in these parts tend to have

snake skin, we all laughed at that, even you

cast a fish eye his direction like you

possessed the real secrets.

I remember those exploits and driving to Canada on another

exodus when stateless we began again

another groove in our fitful recording

the deep snow and your paw prints leading

me nearer and further

like ice fish we swam in our odd circumstance

always together, staring out stranger windows like

spectators at our own fair ground

in cold you slept beside me and purred

in your sleep to the sound of icicles

warming and falling into snow the

sky a heavy weight holding its breath

eventually we returned to the place of infernal heat

and sizzling side walks where no one but us

and straggly weeds dared to step and the years wound like

lost yarn beneath our odd foray

until you were old and fragile

and I barely noticing because I did not want to

believe you could quit being the little cat

in the pink plastic box glad to see me at the

first airport in our new world.

It was naive or immature of me to forget

cats lives do not echo ours and mine seemed

suddenly far too long and yours bitterly short

a terrible echo of inequality I did not

have the strength to imagine losing you

when together we always were.

Even people who wrote said; ‘Dear Candy, Dear Halo’

as if they could see the join of your fur and my

burning skin against the other

I told myself I would be there when they

sent you to that place I could not follow

despite knowing in my mind the terrible pictures

would roam long and unbidden for many years

to look into your eyes and remind you how much you mean

to me and always how I will look for you

until we are reunited and then I expect

all this will be mere bad dreams and

again we can go forward, or side ways or

whatever direction the after world takes us

but please together, is all I want

for with you gone, I wait without watch

an absence greater than anguish

for you were my best friend in this lonely world

assuaging the hard edges and frayed corners

we came here together and still I am

more lost without you than when I arrived

for your bright eyes and happy tail

gave me courage Halo and ever shall I

look for you coming into the kitchen in

the morning with your half howl of greeting

starting my day and ending it with

putting you to your bed

never once thinking there could be a time

when you were not and I still went on.

Aristotle said it best; a relationship is

two bodies one soul

that is real love

and we are floundering when absent from one another

like the ice fish when it warms up

and water is all but gone.

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.

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.