Poems for Yeye | Teen Ink

Poems for Yeye

April 13, 2019
By jl637 DIAMOND, Livingston, New Jersey
jl637 DIAMOND, Livingston, New Jersey
72 articles 0 photos 16 comments


He is a shadow

hunched over the hospital bedsheets,

coughing black spittle onto a canvas of white.

He moves slowly across the room like honey,

gray wisps of hair tucked behind wrinkled,

drooping ears and leathery skin, hard ribs

protruding from his stomach

as if gasping for air.

I refuse to meet his eyes,

sad and weary with forgetting.

Instead, I will remember

the version of him that

carried me up four flights of stairs

and tucked me in at night

when I was just a small bundle in his arms,

the man who stayed up with me

under the ink of a bleeding crimson sky

to drink tea and recount stories of his youth.

I will remember his hands –

weathered from decades of




swollen from the weight of two wars

and a revolution

yet full from the love of a daughter

and two grandchildren.

I will remember his eyes –

crinkled upward into a brilliant smile

and brimming with laughter and tears,

those eyes that shone

with the reflections of

oceans and milestones and memories.

Most of all, I will remember him

as Love,


and Grandpa.





On Saturday afternoons,

Grandpa and I sit at the kitchen table,

where I will spend hours attempting to teach him

the foreign syntax of a new language,

making room in his mouth

for the harsh syllables

of broken English

so that those women at CVS

wouldn’t laugh at him anymore

for his slanted syllables,

his off-rhythm inflection.

His pronunciation of snack

as snake.

He says, eyes full of pride,

that he is so, so happy for me

for making this language my own,

my voice sharp and smooth –

no trace of an accent, baptized clean and

loud as gunfire.

Yet when grandpa speaks,

I see in his heavy cadence

a mirror to a country that

should have been mine

but which I’ve long since abandoned --

Beijing summers

sticky with white-sheened sweat

and smoke-swathed skies,

suannai yogurt

and night markets of flailing fish and nostalgia.

City of his birth.

City of his leaving.

Once, I asked grandpa

why he decided to come here,

knowing that he would meet nothing

that would want him.

He placed his hand in mine,

told me,

Baobei, this is what family do.

They break oceans for you. They break oceans.

Now, as grandpa and I sit hunched

over the kitchen table,

reciting words that don’t fit in his mouth,

he smiles at the brokenness

not with shame but with pride,

his laughter like

the most beautiful of songs,

a celebration of flesh and blood.

And I want to know his smile

and his broken English

and his stories of China

like a second name.

To wear his voice,

imperfect and stunning,

on my skin.





“For the two of us, home isn't a place. It is a person. And we are finally home.” 

-- Stephanie Perkins


Grandpa’s hands tremble

like wind against the hospital sheets,

calloused like the banks of the Yangtze --

soldiers and water buffalo passing through.

His palms are bloody

with pieces of his mother’s skull,

streaks of red gleaming against untouched white,

her screams silenced by the sharp teeth of

a bayonet.

Us, forgotten –

our land,

our culture,

our people.

Stripped like the bark of the weeping willows,

bruised blue bodies dangling from branches

like torn shirts from a clothesline.

He remembers a time when

home was a foreign word

with no shape and no sound,

a siren without song.

Across the mountains,

pockets of earth

erupt inches away

from his soft face,

his swollen eyes 

red-rimmed like exit wounds

and glassy with the reflections of bullets.

His tears stain the cracked earth –

running through the geographical veins

of the Motherland,

carving rivers to fill the saltwater seas

of the earth.

And now,

he sits immobile, a steady mountain

eroded by decades

of wind and fog and smoke,

yet standing still –

standing always.

Clasping my smooth fingers

between his coarse ones,

he rests his mottled cheek against

the crown of my hair

and tells me

that this

is the safest home

he has ever known.




On the Eve of My Grandfather’s Dying

“Closed eyes, heart not beating, but a living love.”

-- Avis Corea


The most beautiful part of his body

is the bone clinging to his skin

like a prayer. The way his cracked lips

arch into a toothless smile

beneath a wet mesh of plastic tubes,

his breaths shallow and unsteady --

rising, then


the melody of a song.

His eyes lidded shut,

the words I love you whispered like a

desperate salvation, as if some final attempt

to stop this unraveling.

This is what I will remember:

My cheek resting against his chest,

underneath which I can feel

the synchrony of our heartbeats,

the slow fading of his lungs.

His lips ghosting across my forehead—

a kiss pressed to porcelain-cracked skin,

delicate as a rose.

This is what I will forever hold onto:

the soft mourning light

silhouetting the hollow curves

of his skeletal frame,

his skin golden like the sun –

Him, the most tender of fires.

Me, closing tear-blurred eyes

as our hands seek each other’s grasp,

reminding myself that this is what the living do --

that we come into each other’s lives

despite the burning,

if only for the

interlude of warmth.

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