I found our airplanes today,
father-son skeletons hidden high on the shelf.
Some are in their boxes like unspoken words
Others are stacked like half-constructed sentences.
One plane—an Aircoupe—banks left,
skinless balsa wing lifting the ceiling.
I was eight the first time I found it.
Early one morning
in the center of the living room, you left
a box on the footstool. White with an illustration
of a man in an airplane waving.
I waited for us to finish what I started that day. Waited
for hands to lift more than imagination through the air,
Bernoulli's principle applied to the soul.
The skinless plane banks left into shadows.
Shadows like partial memories, shapes
and movements blurry since we closed your eyes
nine years ago.
What a vomitous relief,
that day malignant fingers slipped you away from us
and from your person decayed. There is more than that day
—that blood stank dab of glue—which separates
and brings us together. Folded in its white box,
this papery skin could have lifted our living and dying
into deeper heights. Watch as I cut it to size.
Feel it stretch around us.
In a small bus heavy with people,
I find myself lost in a tangle
of a language I almost but still don't understand.
So I listen with my eyes and the faces around me
a basket beside a green field of small red
a courtyard with a black bicycle from the 1950's, and miles
of road made of stone bricks,
the footsteps of generations.
I hear the breath of a hundred
coal burning winters,
see the gnarled fingers of labor's life.
Sometimes the young stand to let their elders
sit but the driver never comes to a complete stop
Pressing against my arm, a bundle of green vegetables so fresh
a caterpillar is still busy.
When I was a boy, I pulled half-eaten leaves and
watched as the caterpillars kept eating.
When I grew bored with the back and forth,
back and forth,
I would toss them onto an anthill, then watch the frenzy
overcome the ants
and soon the caterpillars.
Boys are like that somedays.
But standing in this bus I am not that boy
or the country I am from or even a foreigner.
I am just another person trying to get somewhere...
the old man from his field,
the woman to the market,
the small girl holding her grandfather's pant leg
—black hair pigtails, pink jacket—
smiling back at me.
The Japanese teacher is far
from your 101 years (and counting).
Her hair is grey
than the last time I saw you.
I watch as her aging fingers unzip the pocket
of her purse, reach in, search around inside until emerging
with two small chocolate bars.
She smiles as she hands me one, a satisfied motion
in her gesture, as though she knew
I was now remembering you. The way
your hands were so exact
when tying a knot.
The way you used your middle
and ring fingers
to hold then tuck the end through. Your chickens
in their coops are a favorite memory, the smell
of their waiting, beaks probing holes in their caged fate.
I always tried to escape the shade of your umbrella.
Only a short distance from the bus stop to
your home but long enough for the boys to laugh.
I guess when you're a boy, an umbrella is only
for the rain.
Four four two. What a number for a Chinese bus.
Seven thousand miles away and your baggage is still mine.
The first and only car you bought new—1965 Oldsmobile 4-4-2—
Big, heavy, and faster than your friend's Camaro.
When I said I wanted to restore it, I meant that I wanted us to restore it...
preferably while you were still alive. After all,
I'm not the one who left it sitting in the Arizona sun and monsoon rains to die
a slow death of cancerous rust and neglect.
I tried my best to finish your backyard.
Your shovel was too slow so I used a dump trunk. Many, many, dump trucks.
But of course, as you always warned, the loosely laid dirt was no match for water
and gravity and a half-assed job. The monsoons turned dirt to mud and the mud slid
down the bank of your yard. So I proudly placed a drain pipe,
stout with concrete! I looked outside during a fantastic storm and the yard was underwater—
the whole damn thing looked ready to slide into the wash!
I sloshed my way to the drain, reached in and pulled up handfuls of sticks
and leaves. The drainpipe groaned at me! It actually made noise...
like the low howl of a strong suction, like the year I felt myself sucked down
drowned my way through dark pipe lost churning lost
way back lost memories knowing only nothing
about you then I then spewed out coughing somewhere someone else
One day trees will push the wind
Our eyes will teach the light
and the light will see what it shows
One day the grasses will strangle
the mower Paints will peel
from their canvas to become life
One day oil in the fields will curdle
Black sopped dinosaurs will trample cars
The air will breathe once more
One day the grass we lay upon will remember
the weight of us, the curve
of our wills against all of Earth
Our distance will melt into Spring
into streams that gurgle and pop
our story into memory