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A Letter to My Father

The cricket you left caged in bronze
for my brother and me sings
his usual commotion of music in the cook-room
until mother’s sobs cut him off
sharply as a bird’s beak.

The red Imperial seal tells us

you will not be returning from the Wall
to plow the spring fields
through weeds and rain.

Lao asks only why

the cricket no longer sings.

Outside in the garden
where the plums swell
purple with rot,
incense carries mother’s
curses to deceitful ancestors.
I hang behind her

like the dangling red berry
of a dying bush.

Lao pulls on my tunic
as though I am you;
cupped in his hands
a cricket is singing.
Together we carry him
out into the fields
and thrust him onward.