Grandpa from the Dead


He stands before me like a dream,

nearly seventy-years-old,

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,

provisionally buried.

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.

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