The Other Shore It was two of us again grandma and me visiting the cemetery on the river bank. Next to grandpa’s old grave newly buried was great grandpa the father of grandma. Great grandma could no longer walk this far. At home, there were only great grandma, grandma, and me, three little women with our little women’s feet planted next to each other under the Ming dynasty table with its wood still rooted in the ancient soil below. My feet had grown to the size of great grandma’s and grandma’s bound feet. They said that I could walk far far roads when I grew up. Great grandpa and grandpa were buried on the shore of the Ocean River. We didn’t know where the river came from but we knew that it ran to the ocean far away where grandpa once sailed on a boat with big white sails. I asked grandma what the ocean looked like. She said the ocean was water with no edge to be seen. I said, if no edge could be seen did it mean that there was no edge? She said on the other side of the ocean there was an edge–the other shore and perhaps, another kind of life. I asked if she knew what the other shore and life looked like. She said she hadn’t been to the other shore and wouldn’t ever be able to know. I said my feet were not bound. I could walk very far. I would see the other shore and life for us all. Later that night under our old oil lamp slowly and gently tuned to the brightest by great grandma grandma began to stitch a new pair of cotton shoes for my tender young feet growing quietly and ever faster.
Waipo — Grandma When I miss my waipo my grandma I always see her stitching a cotton cloth sole under a lamp so far, yet so close. And the lamp: first the forever-ancient oil lamp in the old country house then the epoch-making electric lamp in the concrete city building always somewhat dim making her hover over the needle, thread, and sole in her hands. In my longing for her she would lift her head and look at me warm, long, and tender then lower her head and always, back to her needle and thread again. In the years after she passed away I never stopped missing her like this: Grandma is always sewing and stitching under the lamp. Even though she couldn’t completely imagine the future afar under my feet with every stitch, she thought of a thousand, ten thousand steps with every pair of soles a thousand, ten-thousand miles fending off thistles and thorns on the road for me with her needle and thread.
Mother – the cycle of life Nothing escapes a child in deep listening; head tilting, eyes widened, she hears you. Your courage places victory above danger. Too late— your child, her eyes already lit, seeing the light a thousand miles ahead. “Wait, come back!” You call to her tender back turning toward you, young feet reaching for the first step on the long march of her own. Too late— mother of starry eyes becomes mother of the starry-eyed child— From now on, each step an abyss, for your heart to leap over— From now on, you will follow with newly found courage. Until one day, tired and worn, you slow down; tiptoeing, you just look at her back. Until one day, she pauses and turns around to look— your back already turned, hunched and frail. And your child, she calls— “Wait, come back…”
Chun Yu, Ph.D.is an award-winning bilingual (English and Chinese) poet, graphic novelist, scientist, and translator. She is the author of a memoir in verse “Little Green: Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution” (Simon & Schuster) winning multiple awards, and a historical graphic novel in progress (Macmillan), and more. Her poetry and stories have been published or are forthcoming in the Boston Herald, Orion, Poetry Northwest, Arion Press, MIT Tech Talk, Xinhua Daily, Poem of the Day (San Francisco Public Library), Heyday Books, and more. Her work is taught in world history and culture classes in the U.S. and internationally. Chun is an honoree of YBCA 100 award (2020) for creative changemakers. She has been awarded grants from San Francisco Arts Commission, Zellerbach, Poets & Writers, Sankofa Fund, and more. Chun holds a B.S. and M.S. from Peking University and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University. She was a post-doctoral fellow in a Harvard-MIT joint program.