when my grandmother sings

it is not her voice i hear
but the hymns of the northern village
when the morning sun rises
incense curling in tendrils of myrrh
and rosewood, crimson and gold
stinging brick laden grounds

i can hear the breeze through her hair
thinned by sun bleached dusks
each step she takes with her feet
bound by sunlit straw and jade
monks chant by the riverbed when
we wander towards the mountains

it is the sunset over flushing meadows
and pale red tiled roofs that line my sight
when the day begins, not the voice that i know
on subways, beneath the side walked grounds
where reverberations echo the same names
scrawled in memory

my grandmothers hands like leather
softened by age, not hardened like the
clay she molds to cast in the furnace
or the slight hairs left by brushes from
charcoal ink set aside in the wind

memories that remind of the age when only
words proliferated from mouths too
small to utter restraint

until only chimes are heard, glasses
too thick to crack, too thin to ring
yet remain in my mind their sounds
like shattering plates down the steps
of the temple path

we remember the lessons learned from
those cast away like sand in the wind
when the only sound we heard were
the mournful wallows from the darkened halls
remembering how the timeless night
was thrown into the ether

and my grandmother would hold
out her hand to catch the dewdrops
falling from the sky
her voice was drowned out long ago

when aboard a ship setting sail
from the mountain stream she lost
sight of her land, the willows
lined by the riverbed and the spaces
left in her hand, marked from her
years astray from the motherland
to the golden mountains landing
too far to see, too close to push away

when she left her voice, she stole
her courage from the haughty, from
the mountaintops and river rocks
she left in the village by the sea and
brought back a rainfall, a deluge from
the darkened ink on canvas, bamboo
plates, her hymns and songs written
in verse and chant and oranges left
hanging from trees

her tea still steeping from the northern
breeze and her voice still silent, died
down from the winds overhead still
remembering the songs on her lips
pressed tight, for those
songs of the morning are not songs of dawn
but songs of the dead

La Jungla

My mother was one of a few Koreans in an area of mostly Latinos, who worked
under the metal roof of an abandoned warehouse converted into a shopping
emporium—car stereos, healing potions, sneakers, gold jewelry, toys.

My Mother's Name

When my mother said my name, not one of the three syllables was diluted or mangled, assimilated or Americanized.