For my grandmother
My hands lift high a bowl of rice, the seeds harvested
in the field where my grandmother was laid to rest.
Each rice seed tastes sweet as the sound of lullaby
from the grandmother I never knew.
I imagine her soft face as they laid her down into the earth,
her clothes battered, her skin stuck to her bones;
in the great hunger of 1945, my village
was hungry for graves to bury all the dead.
Nobody could find my grandmother’s grave,
so my father tasted bitter rice for sixty-five years.
After sixty-five years, my father and I stood
in front of my grandmother’s grave.
I heard my father call “Mum,” for the first time;
the rice field behind his back trembled.
My two feet cling to the mud.
I listen in the burning incense to my grandmother’s soul spread;
uniting deep with the earth, taking root in the field,
she quietly sings lullabies, calling rice plants to blossom.
Lifting the bowl of rice in my hands, I count every seed,
each one glistening with the sweat of my relatives,
their backs bent in the rice fields,
the fragrance of my grandmother’s lullaby alive on each one.
Art credit: "A woman works in the rice fields in the central highlands of Vietnam, March 2014," photograph by Sebastien Bicard.
Author photograph: Don Usner (digitally altered by curator).