We are back in the restaurant from years ago,
my grandfather choking on a fish bone.
I am too young to be afraid,
but old enough to remember the sound of it:
not the staccato of his breaths, but my uncle screaming
blood, my aunt picturing shrapnel corkscrewing
down his oesophagus—fear nicking their throats clean.
The waitress tells him to swallow mouthfuls of rice
without chewing. I hold my breath & imagine
this is what dying feels like: the expiration of a heart,
a slow decay in which my father cannot meet his father’s eyes.
I am old enough now to have seen it happen again,
to know we are always dying
little deaths: with my grandmother, with one half
of a body phantomed in grief, with the years after
absence. So much time & none at all. Things die
without dying. Things die & yet,
here: a husband, a son, the woman
they must have loved—leaving footprints in flour.
While my grandfather chokes, my cousin
stares out the window & pretends to be a fish,
whittling at the insides of her cheeks.
I watch her & tell myself a story in my head:
she is the half-eaten hong ban on the table in front of us.
When she was alive, she swam with other fish. Now,
open-mouthed & slit, marrow in my grandfather’s throat,
she learns we are always fish, begging
for permission to leave.
On the way to his heart, the bone hesitates.
My grandfather stops choking. It is the cruellest
kindness. I watch my father hold his father in a death
grip so tender, I can almost hear him say: all I want in this life
is to love you permanent. All I want is to love you