FAMILY AS SIX SCENES | Ting Gou

 

1.
a bed catches on fire and a person
runs down hospital stairwells
crosses asphalt / wears a thin shirt / the summer
clings to her wrists

2.
the same woman becomes my aunt /
becomes a storyteller / is painting for me
the famous scene from every fairy tale /
the hero hurrying toward disaster
toward a burning building or person
or in some cases toward someone
not yet dead / but dying,
asleep under glass / or alone in a tower 

3.
after ten years, I’ve returned home,
I’m in the hospital where my grandmother died /
and her daughter, my aunt, 
has guard duty tonight in a tiny room
above cardiology and as we wait
to be called about theft, weapons, disasters, 
she tells me how three years ago
across the courtyard
in a patient’s room
a cigarette burned a crater the size
of someone’s face
into the bed and as she laughs
I could smell the smoke rise from the walls

and she laughs and laughs and laughs 

4.
same scene, where nothing is happening
as we wait / no burning cigarettes this time, no alarms, 
no frantic stuttering from the other mouthpiece
of the phone hanging motionless
like a broken limb / past midnight, past 3 am,
past when I could stay awake and watch
my aunt comb her black hair
shorter than mine but darker

5.
what I mean to say is,
I think I fell asleep,
stepped out of my body,
became something like fire 

what I mean to say is, 
my aunt is a stranger
with stories of smoldering cigarettes  

what I want to tell you,
the family comes together only
in times of disaster,
gathers what’s crumbling at the edges 

6.
in my dream yesterday, 
there was paper crackling and a face
like my aunt’s, or my mother’s,
their bodies guarding a metal pail
brimming with the ash
of offerings,
perfect replicas for use
in the afterlife / gold coins, clothes,
jewelry for my grandmother /
no one says her name /
no one says anything but
my aunt has in her hand a house
folded from red and blue paper /
it slips from her fingers into the bucket / 
lights up / glows / I watch
the wind carry the pieces into the arms
of some ghost 

 

Ting Gou is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Michigan Medical School, interested in psychiatry and the relationship between memory and identity. Her first chapbook, The Other House, was selected for the Delphi Poetry Series at Blue Lyra Press and was published in 2016. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart three times and appear in the Bellevue Literary Review, Best of the Net 2014, decomP, Ghost Ocean Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, r.kv.r.y., Superstition Review, and Word Riot. You can also find her poems in JAMA, Chest, Anesthesiology, Medical Humanities, and elsewhere. She is a poetry reader for The Examined Life, a literary magazine published by The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

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