Flying to Korea, March 21st, 2012, a Month Before My Mother’s Death
It was interesting on the plane flight yesterday when I met a lady who had just gone to visit her dying father. I was reminded of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and how people are willing to lay bare their heart at train stations and the like. The lady related to me the condition of her father, her family, and her feelings.
—From my mother’s diary, May 23rd, 1977, on returning to Los Alamos after her sophomore year of college.
We sat with a seat in-between us,
an extra flotation device. Neither of us ate.
We slept, or faked sleep, so they would let us rest.
Something so intimate: sleeping together,
grieving together, with a stranger.
I’d just met Song. Her husband
had died eight months before in Michigan,
from liver failure, same as my father
only eight months later.
At the time, my wound was still healing
from a tattoo: a father knot his favorite
artist in Santa Barbara drew, watching
over my shoulder. I don’t remember
our exact conversation that day.
Only how Song bought me banana milk,
how she taught me how to ask for a train ticket,
once we landed. She gave me her phone number,
and we met up a month later, to talk about death,
about how it’s never discussed in America,
but how there, in Korea, it’s always visible
like a black lab tied to a stick outside a restaurant.
Yesterday, when I almost adopted a black lab named Prim,
who seemed to already know me, I was reminded of this:
From the moment I saw recognition in her face, Song wasn’t a stranger.