Broken Clock

Jerry Xiao


Atop the blanket of bluegrass, the day spills light

upon your face, still filled with a comet

of radiance. A few months before, I told you

I’d fly back during the summer, to the nameless

streets pressed upon mountains, the syrup

of twilight catching the falling day, backs

against backs during rush hour, and old

sepia-tinted photographs of our faces leaving

yellow oil over the new. How the city-bound flocks

above the pearl river, lay their benevolent

wings across the unforgivable, the pulsing

nightlights tenderizing you, grandfather,

where you lay. Here,

there was never a plan for reunion.

I gambled, dealt your years to time, so sure

the actors on the Nanjing opera stage would remain

the same. But I was wrong, the bet was lost, and you –

you’ve gone. Here’s what it means now, to abide

by this broken clock: bitter contrition swelling

through my chest, since we’ve split, strange

grandfather and strange grandson, at the end.


We Chinese believe in reincarnation, I am

told. I'm holding this belief, a blunt piece

of glass, easily splintered. Promise you won’t

forget me. Promise you'll be my grandfather

again. I know it’s selfish, this wanting, this

unwillingness to let go, but the only thing

worse than parting death is this

relentless raking of you-never-knew-

him, this rasping you-never-will

know-him against my skull, punching stars

to the back of my eyes, the screeching unbearable.

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