Wendy Chin-Tanner’s debut collection Turn is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in March, 2014. Her poetry has appeared in Softblow, The Mays Anthology of Oxford and Cambridge, The Saint Ann’s Review, and The Raintown Review. She is a Founding Editor at Kin Poetry Journal, a Poetry Editor at The Nervous Breakdown, and the Staff Interviewer at Lantern Review.
In the old beige station wagon straining forward
on the road like a dog
frantically sniffing for the way home,
we are lost in the winding countryside, overgrown
branches scratching the roof
as the signs bearing route numbers grow
too dark to read after a day spent hunting real estate;
a house, some land, some water
where we could run, a precaution after Chernobyl
when we drank only powdered milk and frozen juice for a year.
In the front seat, Ma and Ba sit
silhouetted in silence, sustained in the green glow
of the dashboard, a play
of shadows flitting from the landscape over their faces.
Across the broad lap of the leather backseat, I lie
supine as the daylight that had earlier been
so dazzling and bright dancing
in the paisley of the real estate agent’s scarf
fades from dusk to a black
whose dense immensity, though the opposite
of light, holds its own kind of clarity,
a reminder of how far
you could fall, and I imagine that the car door
could suddenly unlatch and I would fly
out into that darkness, into the woods, into the universe.
Outside my window above the blur of dark shapes,
I scan the horizon for a steady still spot,
but a shooting star screeches like a skidmark
across the night and amid the clouds tumbling
thick and ink-smeared and round,
there is no moon to be found until long after we arrive
when its battered face appears,
a pale ghost hanging in the bright morning sky.
Grandma, your tongue twists, making half-joined
sounds. Your good hand points to the bandages, asking
why and when we will go. The nurses studiously
avoid your eyes, accustomed in their way to such
little scenes; another day, another little death.
The summer I learned to read, I asked you the questions
for the citizenship test. We rehearsed them
over and over again: Are you a Communist?
No! you’d cry and I’d nod yes, smiling but afraid you might
not pass until finally, standing before the judge, you pledged
your allegiance, hand over heart. Your skin is soft and
plump like a girl’s, swollen from the IV, liver spots scattered
sweetly like Brown-Eyed Susans in a field
of bruises. I massage your insteps, running
my thumbs again and again over
your warm little feet. In my hands,
they fit perfectly, arching and curling, toenails like pearls
clipped into miniature half moons. Each visit, we do this
and then I leave. At home, with strong soap, I scrub
my hands clean. And I lead my husband to the bedroom.