Moving to a new place is hard. You leave your community, your family, behind; your apartment is dusty, and the heat is oppressive. But you get to know your roommates, you sweep the floor, and slowly it starts to feel like home.
The ache in your heart never seems to disappear, but you scrounge together the ingredients you have — a box of vegetables you ordered online, too ugly to be sold at a market but perfectly good inside. Onions. Garlic. Carrots. Green beans.
You brought pieces of home with you: rice, which you put on the steamer, and a packet of Japanese curry — it was your dad’s signature dish. He made it every family gathering, every time you came home from college, and just any time you ever asked.
It takes you almost two hours to finish. You salted too late, you’re missing the chicken, and you forgot that vegetables have water in them. The sun has long set by the time you fill your bowl, but you know it was exactly the right dish to make.
You’ve forgotten why your heart hurts so much, but it only takes one taste to remind you. Your eyes unexpectedly sting with tears, and your cry for the first time in a long while. Because you did it all on your own, and so long as you have the arms to cook, and the mouth to eat, you carry your father with you.
Because when you eat, you live. But more than that: so does he.
Today I fell in love with phantoms,
serenading sand and light,
watching from their weeping ashes
memories of joy and strife.
We built ourselves a house of paper
wilting underneath the rain,
kneeling in a soft cathedral,
singing hymns to ease the pain.
Taking up our fists of gravel,
burnished dust, and frozen stone,
carving out a refuge world
from a war of flesh and bone;
Steadied by those iron bastards,
whetted arms by sparkèd force
blazing into hellish glory
shedding corpse by silver corpse.
Those haven walls became our downfall —
buried by the broken glass,
dust to dust from earth surrender,
scattered by the sky to pass.
Yet flowing on, our phantoms echo
through the silent stream of life,
building us a new cathedral,
safe from every storm and blight.
But even strongholds fixed of iron
crumble to the sands of time;
still every moment founds the next,
an ever living-dying rhyme.
The phantoms which I call beloved
are known to be ephemera,
the phoenix ashes spread among
the flowers in memoriam.
So to your grave I take my love,
my hate, my joy, my guilt, my peace…
knowing each new path begins
with letting go. With setting free.
“Do you see it too? Sometimes it looks like he’s still breathing; we’re so used to seeing the motion that our eyes trick us into seeing an illusion of breath.”
My brother and I stood at the side of the bed where our father’s still body lay. Half an hour prior, our family had gathered to be with him as he drew his last breaths. The morning sun was shining through the shades, casting a warm glow around the room. After 61 years of struggling, our dad had finally finished his journey, and for what might have been the first time, he looked truly at peace.
The two of us hadn’t spoken much as we stood by the bedside, but I nodded my head in agreement with my brother. Every little movement in my dead father’s direction prompted me to look harder, to keep searching for that wisp of breath that could have been his. The natural rising and lowering of his chest was no longer there, but my eyes couldn’t seem to give up expecting it — as if somehow he’d suddenly wake up, gasping and flinging his eyes open like in the movies. But he didn’t.
Continue reading “The Illusion of Breath”