Mother, all you remember is how you feel
you don’t remember anything.
My son Andrew’s complaint at age 16
I’ve read recently that medical researchers are working feverishly
on pills to improve the memory. Would we really want to dwell
on the past, the painful — the loss of our missing limbs,
our old enemies, waiting rooms, burnt skin?
How would we appreciate the moment —a spring day
of cherry blossoms — if we were forced to live
in such a tenement of overcrowded memories?
My son Andrew was only five in 1968
when we visited the orthopedic clinic at Walter Reed
Army Hospital. We sat in the waiting room with stacks
of books to read, waiting for ghost pictures
of his femur and predictions about whether breaking it again
would spur growth in his one short leg.
All the other patients were in blue and white seersucker robes
and army-issued slippers. I didn’t ask him what he thought of them—
those without their limbs, parts of their skulls blown in.
On our way home, we drove around the tidal basin,
huge marble buildings with the triumphal feel of Rome.
Cherry blossoms from Japan fringing everything.
I barely remember my mother’s cousin who survived
the Battan Death March and a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
Everyone is moving toward death, but marching there
was a different story, or so they said. He never spoke of it —
hundreds and hundreds of men dropping silently in spring.
Like a frail cherry blossom, once home, he didn’t last.
The only bone I’d broken was my arm in a field at Camp Nyoda.
Dearie, this is going to hurt. One hand on my shoulder
and the other holding my wrist,
the doctor took the arm and yanked it
in that one perfect motion of realignment.
That little girl, Phan Tri Kim, running down the road
trailing her burning skin, I read not long ago that she is in Paris
and the green beauty of Vietnam is bringing the tourists back again.
This year, I’ve heard the cherry blossoms are already blooming in Washington—
not the tear gas, police in plastic helmets with mouth guards, running
right toward us, batons raised, the thousands of protesters
on the mall. Now there is just the shiny wall.
After the organizing, after the protests, I was home, as I recall,
each afternoon when the boys returned from school
but I have forgotten what the argument was about
when Andrew first brought me flowers in spring.
Comfort is a complicated forgetting and remembering.
Published in Whistling Girls and Cackling Hens 2003, Pudding House Press chapbook series