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Love is a Thing of Numerous Cautions

— Jenne Hsien Patrick

The written character for love
in Chinese
                        contains the radical​ ​心 (xīn)
at its center, a heart carved right into its architecture.

                         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 (xiǎo)
means small, and 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.