by Felix Jung
Our family stands on a hill high above
Los Angeles, holding stacks of paper
in our hands, thick Chinese characters
scrawled in ink. Yut Cheen, one thousand,
the smallest sits at the top. Each bill
is bigger than the last, ten thousand, one
hundred thousand, the sum so large
it makes me dizzy trying to count.
No one talks of what my grandfather might
buy: a house with many rooms, suits
and ties of finest silk, shoes made from only
the best leather. There, in the heaven
of immigrants, he’ll be the richest man
dead, swaggering through Paradise waving
a thick wallet, a trail of receipts in his wake.
Today, no word from either language helps
my father and he cries, my mother’s face
nestled in his neck. I am barely seventeen,
too young to know crying for anyone other
than myself, cradling a million dollars
in my palms. I know nothing of my family’s
journey to America, the distance, the years
of hoarding, saving for the cost of passage.
We stand on the hillside, lighting incense
with matches, stacks of money in flames
on the ground. It grows from our feet, fumes
thick as guilt, a long white line from ground
to sky. This is Chinese death, a way to bribe
the dead, to buy forgiveness. False currency
for all that we, in our shame, could not give.