for M. Maylor
Dear Anne Carson:
My friend read me the poem where your mom
said that the dead walk backwards.
You thought this myth arose from poor translation.
I can attest to your misapprehension.
My social studies teacher in grade 8, Ms. Rogers,
believed it was customary for the Chinese
to walk backwards when entering a washroom.
So when our class went to Silver Dragon for lunch,
that’s what we did, giggling, even if we didn’t have to go.
But in my family, we never believed this.
Where do ideas like that come from?
It’s true that regret looks back, that death’s shadow follows
us, and your only true companion is solitude,
whose clarity will fade to black.
It makes sense that the face of death must
be turned our way. We’re still here.
I have to read lots in order to find
what’s useful, Ms. Carson.
To walk backwards is to safeguard not knowing: in the end,
my striving can’t reach more than this. Than this.
Weyman Chan, “But I’m No One” from Human Tissue: A Primer for Not Knowing: Poems. Copyright © 2016 by Talonbooks.
Source: Human Tissue: A Primer for Not Knowing: Poems (Talonbooks, 2016)