We know our mother is proud of her father, Ho Shu Kang,
the way his jaw made the corners of a square. She framed
his medical diploma and hung it watching the front door
of her house, so we think he evaluates our entrances and exits:
their frequency, how the latch clicked softly or slammed,
in his cap and gown as though he isn’t younger than we are
now, fresh on the world, an army surgeon with eyes of dew.
Chiang Kai-shek, on the other hand, is dead history between
two blue skies with white suns. When my adolescent jaw
began to make the corners of a square, I held my hands up
to hide them in the mirror and imagined eyes like cartoon
circles. My mother tells me I look white, I don’t know
what she means by that. Is she reassuring me? Is she
disappointed? She used to say Shu Kang came to Minnesota
with one suitcase and three dollars in his pocket, as if his
American Dream was the lark of a hopeful childhood. Now
she hosts Zoom parties with unfamiliar cousins, sharing
old lists and photographs glued to cardboard, a sword.
I discover war running behind him in his retreat to Formosa.
I read evidence of the siblings he mourned:
Two females. Died from Japanese bombers.
Male. Very handsome. Died early.
My mother may or may not have done less mourning. He died
in 1972 of cancer related to hepatitis. Everyone who grew up in
China at that time had hepatitis, she says. I remember her thin
mouth and tucked chin, reading journal articles on HPV vaccine
trials, her single-minded quest to inoculate her children.
Even my brother will not get cervical cancer. One by one we
leave her house, passing Shu Kang’s diploma. Seeing our squared
jawlines in the glass, we know we did not get here on our own.