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Yeye and Nainai

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In 1949, Yéye, my grandfather, was a soldier
Eighteen years old and already fighting,
Decked in pale camouflage military green
Assigned to leave Qingdao,
The town of his home and his sweetheart,
N?inai, my grandmother, only sixteen,
Scared about the war that none of them
Knew anything about
Besides knowing the difference
Between a Communist and a Kuomintang.

Houses lay like charred, fiery beacons
Screams and pleas for the ones
Who would never again taste
Smoke-smothered duck kebabs and sweet red bean buns
Buried to bed in the feathery ashes of gunpowder and cannon fire

The warship blared its horn three times,
Last call for the uniformed to get away
From that god-forsaken land;
Told to take nothing with them,
Yéye just couldn’t leave her:
He jumped on his horse to go back;
His friends, with shaking heads and blank eyes said,
“Forget it, or you will die.”

N?inai sat at home, steady hands folded in her lap
Helpless to do anything but accept her fate;
A spider dangled, gleaming on waxy string
The lucky spider, her mother always said
Clop, clop on the dusty, dirt road,
Rode Yéye on his horse,
Sweeping her up into the stirrups
N?inai clamped her eyes shut,
Pressing her face to his back
So she wouldn’t have to see
Everything and everybody they left behind

Just in time, they got to the ship
Gritty hands clasped
Holding onto each other, all they had left
Standing at the masthead
Salty sea rime blasted their faces, whipped their hair
As they headed together to a new land





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