you were the first man who taught me about death. I was five years old; we were walking across the fields to my school. Do you remember, Ba? It was an autumn morning, I think. The trees dazzled us with their electricity. Po Po had died in June, on my sister’s birthday. The deities in the house were covered with fire-cracker red paper. Removal of mirrors. A white cloth placed across the main door. The thin threads of mourning, her ghost trembling in the spaces between us. A black witch moth magnetised by flame, its singed wings. Burning of paper money, igniting of joss sticks. A soul-table for the deceased. Coloured lights around the casket. Snow-white irises. White ribbons. White paper boats drifting down a stream. On the altar, photograph of Po Po in her youth. You and my uncles in black. As grandchildren, we wore dark blue. Later, a man from the same village as my grandparents, paid tribute to her beauty, her skin as smooth as the dragon-eye fruit. She gave birth to four boys, gambled her fortunes away in Liverpool’s Chinatown – was it somewhere on Nelson Street? Her first name means ‘silver’. I saw, then, the allure of memory, her dusty wings beat fast, faster now, imploring me not to forget. I’ve always been entranced by her chatoyant colours, her shadows, her gloom. You held my hand and asked me if I remembered my grandmother. In Chinese, there are no tenses. The past is the present is the future. And in Cantonese, the language, which I heard in my mother’s womb, my original language which has now been superseded by English, I told you I remember.
Plum blossom, peonies. I carry them to your house on my back, uprooted flowers – I’m bent double with their weight. My grandmother’s village is far from here. A forgotten ghost town, south of the Starling inlet. I see the village through a screen. Empty houses, the painted walls abraded by time. Dusty furniture, random chairs and tables, A mechanical, broken fan; abandoned tea ceremony. Cows, chickens, pigs roamed in the fields. Now only the cows are left; wandering forlorn through the valley, the occasional feral cat stalks the backstreets. Wild vegetation sprawls over the farmland. Still, some houses have running water and electricity though no one lives there; the owners have long emigrated abroad. My grandmother’s village is far from here If you go there, you won’t see a soul. I went there once in another time; their house had darkened to an unholy glow, lit only by the shadow of the moon; she was alive, greeted me with open arms but grandfather cast me aside.
Note: the italicised lines are from an Aztec love song