West Coast

A Hispanic man blocked my view of the skyline.
The train lurched and my gaze skipped
so that I was no longer staring blankly at an advertisement
and was instead focused on the man’s forehead,
skin slightly darker than mine, a few deep wrinkles.
A head that would seem round if the hair wasn’t so square—
strands of grey, ears slightly protruding.

From the brow up he looks like my father, who
always gets rectangular cuts, and whose hair
is more grey every time I see him.
In the peculiar way in which a stranger
will remind me with the slightest cues
of my father reading his newspaper, sitting cross-legged,
I was flushed through memories of his telling me
Work hard in school, Do you need anything,
Nothing else matters for this family other than you doing well,
I’m proud of you.

I leaned harder against the pole in the subway car
as the chambers in my heart contracted to cradle
everything he never spoke of:
giving up his inheritance,
coming to America, buying his first home, renovating it,
the robberies and riots in Los Angeles,
never speaking to his mother,
looking older at an ever faster pace.

He used to record every episode of Pokemon
for me to watch since I liked to sleep in on Saturdays.
He helped me recycle enough plastic bottles
to buy a Furbie with “my” money.
Since we had no English books in the house,
we’d visit the bookstore every weekend.
During the drive home we’d listen to Simon and Garfunkel.

I had to sit down in the subway car.
There were the things he did speak of: College tuition.
Losing a business. Wanting to send me money.
Halting conversations on the phone, after which
I always wonder why he started smoking again
and why I can’t quit.
Two more daughters still in grade school.
A Confucian ritual heir with no sons to speak of.

The Hispanic man was still there when I got off;
in my peripheral vision the rounded square
carried away my eight-year-old self.
I walked down the station stairs,
gulping and blinking, imagining
the M train riding off to Orange County, California.