It was Bring Your Parent to Lunch Day at elementary school and I was sitting at a cafeteria table with my daughter. She was born between her brother and sister – there hadn’t and wouldn’t be a stretch of time when it was just the two of us in the house – and she was quietly thrilled at my presence.
School lunch: Italian Dunkers, carrots, milk, applesauce. On the bench next to us was a boy who refused to eat his Dunkers. Spilled his milk. Kicked the table. Wadded up his napkin and threw it. It was maddening. At the end of lunch, he turned to my daughter.
“You are so lucky your mom is here,” he hissed, and for the first time I saw the hurt in his blue eyes. Felt the longing in his heart.
I don’t know exactly what the poem below is about, but my heart aches when I read it. What rises up in my mind are times I’ve avoided places because people who hurt me would be there. And dreams I keep having in which someone I’m afraid of leans toward me smiling, kindness in their eyes. That long-ago little boy in the cafeteria was hurting. I wish I had recognized it at the time, so I could have found a way through to his pain.
Dear Exile, by Henry Wei Leung
Two ways I can cross this street:
one in which you’re at arm’s reach,
another where I turn and trust
the world to roll each ocean
in between us. They unrequite
our names—bittermelon gate,
far shore that sates—and wrought
from us a kind of grace, a kinder rot:
that I am nothing in your world now.
I wish you nothing-wishes, wholeness
as you are. May I find a way through
to your pain, but not to take it from you.
May I never take from you again.
May you tunnel inward, break even—
and become just what you are: miracle
without solace, burned and invisible
firefly heaving a burden of light,
your silences freed but misaligned.
Didn’t we take the poison, we invocation,
we spring debris forgotten by seasons,
we art, we hour of night, lost, veering
to freedom, we windchill not carrying
their cold but only heat’s absence,
we singeing, skinned matchhead—
we signed that archipelago.
So bear me away too.
And unbear me in you.
For more information about Henry Wei Leung, please click here.