To see my mother slip away—
like witnessing time being reassembled,
the missing hands being reattached,
the frozen hours and minutes retrieved
from the crumbled heap,
put back in their primordial order,
its internal organs of spring and coil
mounted back, set ticking,
until the body was all there, all ivory,
pearl and petrified beechwood, the spirit gone.
If she hadn’t looked so determined still
with her teeth grit, her chin thrusted
as she lay
moaning, screaming at the demons she saw
through her morphine haze,
her sparrow-boned body burning,
pressed between thin white sheets,
the room cloying with scents of wilting
carnation and chrysanthemum,
I do not know how I would have stood it
without wanting to pound my fists at someone,
though no one was there
except for the ghosts she left behind.
My task was to comb back her wisps of silvery hair,
kiss her pebble-dry forehead, dress her in four layers
of clothing, beginning with white cotton
undergarments sewn without buttons.
Sound of gong and flute, a river of stars,
tattered clouds raced, caught on the moon’s horn.
My mother’s dying dismantled time.
In her reed boat she paddled back:
wise crone, earthy mother, newborn infant,
prenatal sleep, breath of yin yang.
Caroline Wong came to Canada from China in her early teens and lived in Vancouver’s Chinatown with her family from the 1950s to the early 1960s. She is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio program at SFU. She writes fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in The Prose-Poem Project, The Canadian Tales of the Fantastic, Prism International, Grain, and Ricepaper.