Hilary Tham


I don't know if last night's stars aligned in some
mysterious conjunction or a moon-pulled rise
in tides or money in the bank moved me to stop
at the cemetery and buy a double lot
on the brow of a low hill comfortingly near
an old friend whose death leached the world of color
a few months ago, where tall oaks provide shade
gentle as friendship in midday glare; I stand
and look over the undulating lawns where grass
rises to lap at my feet like waves. Good feng shui
I think, good flow of chi, wind and water.
I remind myself I am not superstitious,
yet peace rests on my eyes like morning light.

The memorial gardens representative—
cemeteries embrace euphemisms—offers
the extras I can buy now or later, granite bench,
flat bronze plaque (standing headstones not allowed),
lead liner for the interment site. I look
at his face, the bruised shade of his skin
and wonder: Does keeping company
with the dead darken the aura of people,
as the Chinese believe, and would this
darkness show in photographs or is it
visible only to the living eye?

I supposed the lead lining, required by law,
was for sanitation, but he says, "No, it's cosmetic—
to prevent the weight of earth from collapsing
the coffin, making ugly holes."
Later, I tour the other gardens—
the Asian garden with mounded graves
achingly familiar from childhood, the tall
tombstones with photos, one like grandfather's.
I take a quick look around the Muslim
garden with nameless graves—and toss away
the small regret I will not have a headstone
to inconvenience the mowers.

I take a last look at my new purchase and note
that Joe and I will lie beside Winter when we die—
Mrs. Winter already here, the mister still alive.
I wish him long life and wonder if he has
remarried and whether he will use this space
reserved for him or opt to go with a second
Mrs. Winter—man proposes and God
or others will dispose or dispossess us.

From my hill, I look at the green earth
that goes on and on, beyond the horizon,
beyond stretch of the eyes, hear the hum
of distant traffic, the swish of wind crossing
waves of grass and feel buoyant peace.
I hope, when I open my hands to the winds
and let go this body, this gravity,
my children will feel a similar peace,
that they will not be afraid.

Hilary Tham
Hilary Tham was author of nine books of poetry, including Bad Names for Women, which won second prize in the Virginia Poetry Prizes (judge: Gerald Stern) and third prize in the Paterson Prize for Poetry (judge: Diane Wakoski). Her memoir on the making of a writer, Lane With No Name, Memoirs and Poems of a Malaysian-Chinese Girlhood, was published in 1997. Her short story collection, Tin Mines and Concubines: Malaysian Fictions, won the Washington Writers' Publishing House Competition and was published posthumously in 2005. She was a teacher and visual artist, poetry editor of Potomac Review, and editor-in-chief of The Word Works.



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