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A piece for my 姥爷

I wrote you a poem
in second grade

"I am 7
My grandpa is 70
He is my hero

I am young
I study at school
He is old
But he's still learning

I study Chinese
He studies English

I learn to use the computer at school
My grandpa learns to use the computer at home

I teach him how to play checkers
He teaches me magic tricks

I love my hero
And he loves me"

You wrote a poem back to me,
You wrote whole books of poems
in a tongue I cannot read
in a tongue I abandoned
for assimilation.
I hope I'll read them on my own, one day
I bet they're something beautiful.

In our last summer together
I learned more about you than I ever had

You told me about how
my mother didn't get into medical school
because of an article you wrote
against the institution.
You told me this
and you cried

You told me about your brother
who joined the army because
your family could only afford education for one.
You told me that's how he died
and you cried

I understood fragments of your life stories,
bits and pieces of where I came from.
I heard you talk around
imperialism and struggle,
poverty and "making do."
But I also heard truth
and strength
I've seen you do the most for others
And act with the fullest heart
Those are qualities I hope to grow into
They are really something beautiful

After summer passed
we only spoke on the phone
and by that I mean
you and mom spoke
while I listened
because I couldn't find the words
to tell you how much I loved you
how you were still my hero
So instead I told you to eat well
and that I'd call you again
the next day

When I left for college
I said goodbye to you on the phone
You said goodbye, too
I wonder if you knew
this would be our last time speaking
I wonder if you struggled for words, too
Because that's all you said, "goodbye"

It snowed the day
my mom told me about you
She said it was fitting
that outside was blanketed with white
the color of death

I cried and then
I went to my friend's birthday party
Where we danced and sang
When I only wanted to talk
about you

When I was little
You invented Quan Quan
a circle of light on the wall
a reflection of the sun on your watch
(But I didn't know that then)
Quan Quan would respond to my questions
It moved up and down for "yes"
Left and right for "no"
Quan Quan said it liked me
but not so much Lao Ye
You pretended to be mad
And I laughed
And you laughed

I see you now
in the reflection of light off my watch
in checker boards and in majiang sets
I see you, too, in myself
when I speak truth to power.

I don't know where you are now
but I know it's someplace beautiful
I hope it's somewhere that transcends language
so you hear me as I say
"You are still my hero"
but just in case,
"你还是我的英雄。”

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