Monday Poem: Ghazal For Grandmother

Grandma’s kitchen. Illustration image

My grandmother kept a suitcase, hard & rounded
like a deep pink shell. I used to finger its rounded

edges & compare them to her deft, valleyed hands.
Wind-chapped skin crinkled like crow’s feet, rounded

around eyes where her smile never reached. She grew
in the dried-out fields by the Yangtze, grains of rounded

rice panicles shriveled into shadows under her eyes &
trellised ribs. Three years, skin stretched over rounded

bone. My grandmother’s mother escaped the country
during the war. Her daughter, still a toddler, rounded

cheeks rubbed with dirt. Tucked in a bush, hidden
from soldiers. She learned to keep fear rounded

behind corners, choked into the packed-earth walls
of a household not her own. No one rubbed rounded

circles on her back once she woke from nightmares.
But when hurt is spread thin, sharp edges rounded

away by time, does memory fade? She has begun
to forget & cannot find words to describe rounded

edges slipping out of reach: the sunlit cream of her
living room walls & smiling family hung in rounded

wooden frames. America blurs into an ocean of ink,
tiding characters she can no longer write. Rounded

above these murky waves, all that she never knew
was family & forgiveness. The days have rounded

into full circles. My first memory is her, yet one day
she will forget the rounded syllables of my name.

By Iris Cai (age 15)
—from 2024 Rattle Young Poets Anthology

Iris Cai: “I like to write poetry because I’m in love with words, people, books, and things. I love English, which is not even my first language. Even now, I’m unacquainted with the feeling of these words on my tongue, but when I am writing poetry, I can create a syntax that is entirely my own. It’s a kind of empowerment: I can put a name to all the complex, confusing feelings I otherwise could never express. What comes out is small and pulsing and jagged with line breaks, but it is an ode to all the people who have made me, all the books that have sustained me, all the words I know and will never know. For me, poetry is the next closest thing to love.”

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