Requiem with a Singing Kimono

by Gavin Yuan Gao


          Our entire spoken life is one long sentence…
—Mary Ruefle

So we find ourselves at the ends
of our sentences, my mother & I.
I, an old man, hair thinned to a pale
wreath of frozen steam, while
she, still thirty-six & delicate
as a whisper, having never aged
a day from the morning she died.
Gently, I carry her on my back
like the daughter I never had
as we track the palimpsestic
hoofprints in a snow-effaced field.
From the sun’s blind eye
blazing in sky
time falls, soundless, like ash or
a hymn of ground glass. Where
are we going we?
never asks. Such is her trust
in my judgment, even
at the intersecting ends
of our lives. I feel a shiver flashing
through the frail whisper
of her body and I
am afraid

Of losing her, I was
not prepared. How to steady
oneself against loss when
the losing never ends.
Yet there she was
in the pristine snowdrift
of her hospital bed—delirious
as a feverish child in the throes
of her death, and in the sheer
exhaustion of dying
she turned to me slowly
as if to say something (perhaps
she wanted a final word
or just a last sip of water).
Then the saying faltered.
Her sentence, unfinished.
Something inside me found
its release like the vision
of a falcon freed from
its blinder. Through the open
window, a wood thrush trills
a clear flute note. Outside,
summer has just begun

The sentence you wanted to finish
never finishes.
You, who never meant
to leave, are leaving

like immaculate scales
carefully stripped off the back
of a silver koi, the snow
continues to fall. It sings
as it falls. It sings not like a songstress
but like the kimono she wears
as her skin catches fire
from the spotlight.
A singing kimono, shredded
to a handful of notes.
That song: the faint
scent of time. Put me down, my
, my mother begs me
just when I thought she’d fallen

Put me down
so alone you can still make it.

But where is it I’m headed
when you are no longer here
to make it with me. Even
in this dream I have of our fleeting
reunion, the guilt of dying
has made you delirious again.
You should know you were never
the burden. You’re every journey
I take without knowing.
Without you, the road disappears
beneath me. Without you, of whose
unfinished sentence
do I sing?