Two Poems by Timothy Liu

CLASSICAL MUSIC

On the day my mother died, I unplugged
the stereo at a time when record clubs
still sent out their selections of the month

unless you said otherwise. The mail piled up
on a table in the entry hall—an avalanche
of bills and condolences I knew I didn’t

have to respond to. People would understand.
My cat stopped sitting on the amplifier,
found other sources of heat to get through

a winter punctured by the clang and hiss
of radiators built before my mother was born.
Feeding the cat, changing the litter—done

without music in the house. Months later,
I took myself to a live concert, something
by Mozart, something I remember first

having heard in the back of a ’68 Rambler,
the radio on, my mother and father trying
to guess the name of the composer, the one

game I knew my mother would win. It comes
to that. One moment you’re turning a dial
lit up on the dash, and the next, you’re not—

 

THE REMAINS

Wuxi, China

Walking out of the new cemetery, my father
takes my hand, having just re-interred the remains
of his own father and his father’s two wives—
his mother dead from T.B. by the time he was ten.

He takes my hand and says, Now I can die in peace
even if we didn’t get the actual bones. Village thugs
hired by my uncle made sure the burial mounds
behind the house my father grew up in would not feel

a single shovel blade go in as they stood there
sentinel with arms crossed. My uncle’s wife
had a dream that out of the grave’s opened gash
demons rushed—ancestral ghosts not wanting to be

disturbed. In less than a decade, bulldozers will come
to take the Liu village down. My grandfather’s
ashes, my grandmother’s bones, my own father
walking away with two fistfuls of dirt and saying,

This will have to do. So many others have died
who’ve left nothing behind. I’ll never come back
to this place again. My father kisses my hand,
I who’ve flown across twelve time zones to be here

at his side in a borrowed van, me looking out
the window at a countryside once overrun
with Japs marching West along the railroad tracks,
my father and his siblings hiding in an outhouse,

a dead horse found in the schoolyard soon after
the soldiers had gone. Your hands are so soft! I say
to my father. So are yours, he says. Remember
when it was we last held hands? I must have been

a kid, I say, maybe eight, or ten? You were six,
my father says. And I’m still your son, I say,
leaning into his shoulder, our hands the same size.
And I’ll always be your father, my father says

before I have the chance to say another word,
my eighty-year-old father nodding off into sleep.

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