Originally published in Commonthought, Lesley University, December 2019.
No. Those rising tones, tense as a violin note suspended on a string, died with my grandfather when I was too young to remember his funeral except for the juice box I drank from: Juicy Juice, green apple. My dad didn’t speak the language, either— all Chinese sounded like arguing to him— but every accent he tried morphed in his mouth into the shape of his father’s breath. His father told him, “Never go to China,” hid guns behind every door, terrified of a place he’d once called home, a country that shot the family he’d left behind. At my parents’ wedding, only my aunt—tall, blonde, with bones as sturdy as German limestone— spoke his language. She’d been in the Chinese countryside while tanks rolled through Tiananmen Square. She spoke to him about a lake. “No,” he told her, “do not say the lake. You must say the beautiful lake by the three pine trees standing alone against the autumn sky.”