“The Other Shore” and Other Poems, by Chun Yu

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.

WaipoGrandma

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.

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