I have pneumonia.
2 weeks is a sliver on the dial’s shadow.
Here is the doctor. He wears a white coat.
He speaks with his back,
assertively, urgently, efficiently— head on chart.
I nod before he moves on to the next patient.
On the hospital bed where I lay in white pajamas (an old injured crane)
a tray is pushed closer, lukewarm café au lait
a biscuit and a bib,
for my neck (feathers of a beard now shaven).
I’d rather a Gauloise.
The ones the nurses smoke on breaks, outside my door
But I haven’t in years, not since the days of
airlifts and exodus — vượt biển.
I am 84.
My hands are speckled and translucent,
coconut water drained from old husks.
They’ve forgotten their power
like a baby who has yet to discover theirs.
I am fed the liquid with the softened biscuit floating in a cup,
a spoonful at a time.
Later, I am
diapered and powdered.
My wife and some of my children – stand vigil
with blankets and sponges.
I am still here,
Even if they can no longer see
inside this sarcophagus of skin.
Come find me. I say with eyelashes.
I am still here,
just wounded and wandering.
My daily sunset is
the little girl with black hair.
She visits next door, my sleep-talking neighbor
a white curtain separates our bed sheets.
I’ve seen her many times before.
First in dreams,
Then between my hands, when they could feel;
For among the sepia jars of my shop,
I mix silkworm sand and cassia bark,
purple thyme stem and tumeric.
chrysanthemum flower and cinnamon,
for fever, toothache or a broken womb.
Many have come, knocking on my
dusty door, looking for pot of rice or a miracle.
This batch I grind and boil, a special payer for the unborn.
I know that the young mother carries the burden of her sex and the scars
of a wounded heart, betrayed in Dalida’s “Parole.”
The child I fear will inherit karma’s unwanted curse.
I must soften it somehow.
I admire the young mother’s strength even though her eyes are plastic.
It is ready.
Con oi, daughter, drink this, I tilt her head, so she can sip the bitter brew.
And so, the child appears and grows like a bamboo shoot, months later.
For a couple of years, I watch over the little girl.
I give her a golden manderine. She peels it herself
and hides the long coil behind the inferno
of the radiator –that familiar fragrance of spring and Tết.
Our eyes speak a language as old as the pulsating stars
against the black sky.
Why aren’t they here? Perhaps,
a better life with clean plates and bank accounts, somewhere.
The hospital is not a place to heal or sleep.
Despite the comfort I find incubating, underneath lab lights
that remind me of the sun, when we fled in a caravan to Cambodia,
mother’s weightless body in my arms.
I carry her for miles and miles, and still.
Above this floor and the many floors,
the sun shimmers through
Above this building, and others clustered around it, above streets and alleys and squares
where wind chimes ring, here in Paris,
Cartagena, San Miguel, Rome,
See the little children playing, dancing and smiling.
Watch them holding hands,
A thousand splendid rays, beaming.
Even in this moment over the ether
not so much a glimpse anymore but a feeling.