Updated: Mar 2, 2021
By Benjamine Mo
It is bone and wanting bone. It is the sight of an apricot tree in winter. Auntie explains the numbness of her leg with finger pressed against hardened sinew. In the bone. It is humming a raven song, always, humming and feeling in the bone.
Mama explained to me the prognosis in Mandarin, and I could understand bone. But how do you translate what is within bone and of bone and eating from the base of the spine? Perhaps only apricot cores know the secret of interior and humming, humming interior.
And in the core, the bitter seeds. My Auntie eats bitter apricot kernels that rupture boils on skin; they are a promise in common words of life altogether again. But they turn cyanide in the stomach, and burrow deep into the pit of the belly.
Starve the tumor. This is the eyes of Uncle, who sees cell by cell and branch by branch of the apricot tree. Meat is dangerous, is appeasing and a hesitant bow. The apricot seed, though, is touted and toxic, but toxic and a necessitated toxic. It is the toxicity of salvation. And Uncle sits at the kitchen table—of Old China, New China, and America; he is watching Auntie eat bitter kernels, a man whose pupils ground seed and herb and whose hum is for no one and no Earth but that of his love.
Such are the winds of Shenyang: rusting and caressed by Manchurian mountains. The winds of forefathers, industrializing as iron filings in air. And these metallic winds have carried Auntie. Through cloud bed and with two tongues, to the land of winds.
This is the wind to which burning incense beckons, to which it dims and undims. The winds of Auntie are the density of wisdom; lick skin dry with the rolling of her northern Chinese phonemes. I leave incense sticks alight to beckon to winds and breath, for the ash and unknowing ash to come.
No song is Auntie’s as no song is that of Mama or Baba. These are the lullabies of cross-pollination, this is the planting of apricot. And this is a medley: of sheep, one, two, and a lesson in maternal love, universal. While Mama is at work, Auntie sings to me the tune of filial piety: In this world, only mothers are good. Children with mothers are treasures. Hugging Mother, endless love. I am reminded to love Mama, to hold something in and grasp tightly. At such a young age, my grasp is still tender and forgiving, so that Mama and Auntie laugh and pinch my cheeks.
Auntie has a daughter, too. Now, Auntie speaks of her daughter like a tidal pool, she the shoreline, the wave and furl. Auntie fears nothing artificial; only evaporation. Not hers, of course, but of her daughter, of the fingers of tide that remain in wells of rock. Auntie knows that nothing can truly stay. In Mandarin, the word for stay is liu, much like the word for flow, liu. Auntie knows not to fear the flowing; she only prays for high tide, for rain in a desert she does not know. For rain on a field of earthen apricot.
That night in Auntie’s living room, we are welcomed with a bowl of watermelon. To eat watermelon is to cross heritage, the past and present and future; it is familial and intimate in juice and flesh. Watermelon is melon of the west. It is the fruit of dusk and setting sun. Auntie does not eat, her appetite now a stretching shadow. Be good, eat it all, Mama urges me. I am left to eat alone, to eat the red of nightfall.
We shall bring again a watermelon from Good Fortune Market. It is a hopeful thing to purchase and offer watermelon; it is a prayer to the west and to the immediate. This is the promise of fruit: body and seed, seed and body; rooting and deliverance. A promise, I suppose to me and a realm of bone, and to Auntie—Auntie and a realm of bone.
And later that night, Auntie emerges from the kitchen with an apricot in hand. It is peeled and silk. She sits in a swivel chair and faces us, palm of apricot. Her numbing leg is extended and points a compass, though her body leans against the pull of steeled muscle. She holds the apricot in front of her and away from her; no, she is reaching for the apricot already in hand.
They say that an imperial woman with an apricot in hand symbolized fortitude. I realize that Auntie is as much an empire of wind and soil and water as she is of bone and humanity. And I remember that even the greatest dynasties were mortal.