1916: China, France



I have the letters.

Five months pregnant, she thanks God

For blessing her. By steamer, she sends

The news from Shek Lung home

To Santa Cruz. Alden,

the missionary, writes with joy

To his parents in Pasadena, 

His elegant cursive still clear

As the California sky,

Giving all the credit to God, although

he may have had something

to do with it. His wife, 

my grandmother, asks

her parents to send baby clothes.


Meanwhile, in France, another devout

Believer, Wilfrid Owen, lies in a muddy field,

his body shredded, blown out

Of his trench by a mortar.

He survives to write 

“Anthem for Doomed Youth”

With dripping scenes of slaughtered men.

He stands witness for two more

Years and is killed by 

Friendly fire one week before

The peace is signed. 

Direct hit. The fog of war.  


Back in Shek Lung, the baby clothes arrive.

The baby girl is baptized by her father and

contracts a strange illness. The American

doctor is mystified; the baby, Rose,

Lives for two months and is buried

in the tiny Christian cemetery 

In the village.  Jiang, my grandmother’s

housekeeper, whom they are trying

to convert, asks why Jesus did not

protect the little baby. 

“Maybe you should have also

prayed to the household gods.”


Ninety-eight years later, at my kitchen

table, I read the letters.

People said she

Was never the same

After Rose. We were never

the same.