& grandmother strung by the thread of her qipao
outside a church, cotton-chafed and her left shoe
slotted underneath her wrist. a cross left behind
by a passing missionary between her
blood-muddied thighs. she didn’t feel
my father until he barreled through her
body like a bullet, as if weight holds
nothing until it touches air. as if babies must
oxidize to live. maybe that’s why my father
hates copper and flushes pennies down
the drain, a smatter of bronze tunneling
down the toilet. i didn’t know the
indonesian term for father until i asked and
it came out of his mouth like a sneeze. “ayah,”
he said, and i thought he was in worship before i
realized i was thinking of the wrong
language. funny how father sounds holy
in arabic, how it just blisters in bahasa.
in english, i tell my boyfriend that he reminds
me of my grandfather even though i
never met him except in rumors.
i don’t understand any man, really, just the
silhouette: like how i pretend to pray
to another god but the only foreign
word i know is nai nai, meaning my father’s
mother, or breast, or milk in chinese. a
woman the same character as body
and drink; the same composition
as religion. if a man is a secret and a girl
an opening, i don’t know why women wear
veils in weddings or how priests and fathers
leave sisters on sidewalks.
& nai nai birthing christ over a teaspoon of asphalt.
before we broke up,
my boyfriend carved a hole where
his molar should have been and, savoring
it, i thought he didn’t taste like wine but
retribution. the kiss more judas than
jesus, he said he couldn’t feel in me
the dust nascent in medan girls.
who am i if not devoured by
dirt? my grandmother if not disguised
by sweat? my father speaks in bahasa to
his mother, so when they talk all i
catch is ayah ayah ayah. i don’t know what
more my father can say about his father. about
absence. or about how, regardless of which
slip of asia you’re from, sorrow is
swallowed and grief indemnified in the
bruise-stained streets ribboning
throughout sumatra, both violence and
shame endemic in a heritage of
impurity. grandmother meaning a woman
in chinese but nothing else in
bahasa, the role a separate
sort of thing.
& nenek nursing a child beside the american-medan church,
priests and fathers
elapsing. my ayah
not a father,
but a loss.
Josephine Wu is a sophomore at Georgetown University, where she is a Lannan Fellow studying English and Government. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Kalopsia Literary Journal, Bitter Fruit Review, and Dishsoap Quarterly. She has also been recognized as an Adroit Commended Finalist for prose and nominated for a Best of the Net in poetry. You can find the full collection of her work at https://josephinewu.carrd.co.