The written character for love
contains the radical 心 (xīn)
at its center, a heart carved right into its architecture.
愛 sounds like I
and the language I speak
is usually the one that comes easiest.
Like in goodbyes I’d say at the end of visits
with my family, my Po-Po’s warm sandalwood
hands holding mine.
Sometimes I’d try something new, to say the words
my daughter writes on red paper hearts
at her Saturday Chinese school,
wǒ ài nǐ
and I should know that my grandmother
would push away any
I love yous
by responding with the more acceptable
familiar parting, xiǎo xīn,
which means to be careful, which I take
to mean: clip my wallet to the zipper
on the inside of my purse and on the flight
make sure to wipe down
every surface around our seats. This is an instruction.
I haven’t been on a flight nor home for over
a year now. We talk on the phone and she has added plenty
more cautions to our goodbyes; lock the doors,
trust no one but family, don’t go outside, xiǎo xīn.
How can I explain to my daughter that we can choose how
we will say goodbye, that we won’t inherit this caution
tā bù xūyào qù
from one single night long ago
he didn’t come home
méi bàn fǎ
it’s no use.
I have always wondered if it is love that she means.
The character 小 (xiǎo)
means small, and 心 means heart
I want to comfort her decades-old-grief
with what she won’t admit. I remember the love
she cleaves. I will share this with my child:
thin slices of beef cooked with garlic scapes,
this was his favorite meal.
Here, come eat.
Read more from Issue No. 25 or share on Facebook and Twitter.