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Across the tempestuous Pacific lies a bridge,
rocking gently on undulating waves,
seaweed streaming across its barnacle-encrusted planks,
its wavering shadow a refuge for shoals of silvery mackerel.
The creaking bridge has withstood eons of brutal thunderstorms
and heaving waves, seeking strength from the lines of characters etched into the worn wood,
so many droplets of hope clustering around each rusted nail,
a tribute to the long-dead masses of Chinese
peasants who drifted out to sea each morning for thirty arduous years, upon
rickety homemade rafts straining to carry their timid yet determined dreams.
Clutching the well-wishes of their rural, impoverished villages, they used hope as lifelines,
tethering them to the wooden bridge,
this feeble rainbow they infused with shreds of their hopeful hearts,
so it might one day reach across the vast waters
and to the sparkling lands of Liberty.
When the final plank was laid, the bridge awakened,
a magnificent symbol of the Chinese proletariat.
Poor men trekked across it from sunrise till sundown,
carrying their few possessions—ancient rags and charms that instantly branded them
as foreigners as they stepped upon the desired
yet hostile American soil,
where the black tides of racial prejudice flowed and ebbed,
coursing through the veins of a smoke-belching, industrialized nation.
My grandfather was one such immigrant.
A salmon hatchling darting through the trickling
mountain brooks of college, my grandfather was gripped with an insatiable curiosity
of what lay beyond, beyond the frothing swells of the ocean, roiled
by blustery winds, and so he trod
upon the sagging wooden bridge, merchants and their aging
mules parting before his hallowed step.
In American soil ripe
with financial fertility, my grandfather planted
a hardy cypress sprout, each proud leaf coursing
with emerald hope. But surrounding this bud he placed strangler
figs, name tags fluttering from their menacing, curving talons of wood, inscribed
with the harsh honorific of the parent company
across the waters, for the brilliant success he envisioned was always
tarnished by Chinese businessmen
my obedient grandfather deferred to.
Racing through frigid waters masking lurking, hungry
leopard seals, my grandfather was a diligent
penguin, child of treacherous waters, hunting for
elusive fish for his growing chicks,
their beaks agape and stomachs growling.
Every time he looked into those young, inquisitive eyes
miniscule stars twinkling with possibility,
he was imbued with a surge of parental love,
and glowing energy flowed through his aged veins once more.
A terrible evil, however, lurked beneath the surface of his wrinkling skin, a secretive order
of assassins slowly festering within his body, itching
Doom descended upon my dogged grandfather, his aged bones besieged by
Cancer, his liver an enslaved Trojan Horse churning with brainwashed
soldiers itching to wrench the Helen of his heart from anguished veins
sobbing rosy tears.
The flames within my grandfather succumbed
to blighted water and his lovely cypress snapped,
snapped by sinister strangler figs
toppling my grandfather’s iron pillars of will.
A penguin bloodied by merciless seals, he was rejected by the eminent doctors
whom he so revered, his cancer rejoicing in Lady Liberty’s lamenting.
Misery meandering through the veins
of a mutilated heart, he limped across the bridge, the heaving waters and lofty moon
Blood glimmered on pristine white surfaces,
fear descended over those he had held so dear,
and shining knives pierced his waxen skin. Malignant, cancer-infused lumps
of parasitic flesh screamed in outrage
as they were pulled from their host.
As he floundered in the sinister cenotes of Death, a pale hand
angelic in grace, pulled him from the abyss, ripped off
the trappings of the Devil coating him, and he awoke to the masked
countenances of surgeons bowing to the Five-Starred Red Flag.
He was held tenderly in the hands of Tranquility, a breeze blowing gently
on his fiery embers of tenacity, carrying with it melodies
of mountain villages and laughing children from whence
his childhood memories arose.
Tentatively his vitality burgeoned, a tender water lily rising
from murky depths, who sensed splendid sunshine rays fringing a tapestry
of suffering, a tapestry terrible
yet filled with rebirth.
My father, a fledgling penguin hovering tentatively at the glacier rim, wondering at
the bejeweled land beyond the seas, exulted in the approach
of his own son from the timeless meadows of birth beyond this world.
As he approached the bedside of this still-frail
from eternal sleep, my grandfather ever
persistent, whispered, “I shall see your grandson be born.
This ailment shall not vanquish me.”
Alas, the dastardly and heinous Fates insisted on a tale of woe, their crooked, knobby fingers
tugging cruelly at the thread on which my grandfather’s life hung.
On behalf of these three wicked witches,
Cancer crept into the bosom of my grandfather, and quietly looped a deadly string
around his thin neck
The stark white lights of the hospital shone in the eyes
of relatives already blinded by tears.
Once more my grandfather lay motionless and rigid, his once radiant, piercing eyes
desolate as a windblown tundra.
His son, separated by raging waters, rugged mountains, and vast plains,
felt his heart crack and splinter, torn between a life soon to be,
and the cruel reality of death,
for my grandfather, laying listlessly on that rickety hospital bed,
Here, in our mournful tale, we introduce
a second bridge, painstakingly built by those wailing spirits who depart
from morgues and cemeteries,
an ever-shifting tangle of broken dreams and haphazard emotions that stretches
from the barren cliffs that ring this world, despondent clouds of sorrow drifting overhead,
to the distant shores, graced by ethereal tunes
emanating from the lyres of angels,
and filled with vast fields of wildflowers untouched by the polluting gaze of mortals,
dotted with elegant trees,
beneath which our ancestors sit,
calmly waiting for the moment when we shall cross the bridge of Death
and into their open arms.
And for that moment I am waiting,
a grandson who was robbed at birth,
who never felt the caring caress of his grandfather,
and who is casting a promise into the heavenly realms beyond,
an iridescent promise to one day
trod the bridge and be united
with him whom I have lost.