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