He stands before me like a dream,
bones weak, eyes, hair, and skin white
as the milk I feed my baby. He reminds me
he came from mountains dotted with opium poppies,
rice fields, and tiny villages with narrow dirt roads.
He tells of escape. Ten days and nights,
carried piggy-back through the Laotian jungle,
up and down two mountains,
past countless dead covered with banana leaves,
He talks of not being close enough to the Mekong River,
the grueling pace slowing his sons,
their backs bent like curved bamboo,
and finally, being left behind under a banana tree,
its long, wide leaves so green and alive,
the sky a peacock blue.
All he had:
an iron knife in its wooden sheath,
a thin blanket, a tiny bag of opium,
and the back glances of his sons and wife
whose sad wailing scattered the calls of birds and insects.
His choices then
were death by wild tigers,
death by communist soldiers,
death by opium,
or death by his own knife.
What did he choose?
His thin lips, a straight line, remain still.
Instead, he places the coarse palm of his hand
on top of my baby’s head
and blesses her with strokes as gentle
as an artist painting life on a bare canvas.