blame and balm

/ Mariah v.n. (Writer), Caroline Tjoe (Illustrator)

Poetry1 min reading time

No. 3

my baba told me i wasn’t hers
when she learned i would be a daughter
i couldn’t carry on the name
so i could only carry shame

now my baba lays limp in a floral garden bed
so i swallow my pride like a fireball
and reach out for her head
and call,
“are you hungry, baba?”

but she spits the rice into my fingers
the warmth of it running like water, calling me granddaughter, the last of generations of fathers

like a crime, she is ashamed of what she will leave behind

so i threw away her little bottles of tiger balm
scrubbed away every trace of her aroma
left her obituaries woven in every psalm
but i couldn’t wake her from her coma

no, she has woken me from mine

A young woman applies balm to her cheek while looking at herself in the mirror. Reflected is a crib and two faces of her mom and sister. Peeking above the makeup table is a ghost of her younger self.