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——–—For Shichan

THE NEWS CAME, AUNTY, THAT YOU PASSED peacefully this day, sisters by your side. Nearly a month now that you refused food, never a reason to want to be in the world after the stroke and the toll of the days after, when you lay there in the dark alone before they found you on the floor of that apartment you’d not left since your father’s funeral. No eat—not even for da kine fry fish, da kine mochi ice cream, let alone the junk kine hospital grinds. No eat, no more nothing.

I woke today tasting salt, and there is still an ocean for me—to find or cross, as all is passage and mourning, the naming of things that one day will be no more. Aunty, there will be no place for you until they get the stone for the old cemetery so you will be with your older brother James who did not live until five, close to Uncle Glenn who just passed, but let’s hope not with your brother Ken who’s been in and out of the hospital lately, his heart not built to last.

You were good to us, Aunty, my brother and me, when we visited from the mainland. You took us to Chuck E. Cheese and let the quarters flow, bought us all the soda we weren’t supposed to have, taught us how to ricochet our throws off the bumpers on Skee-Ball and how to use both hands to smack the gophers pop-pop-pop! We saw you fighting with our mom and the other aunties, heard you talking to yourself when you thought nobody was listening or you just didn’t care, everybody out to get me and these motherfuckas don’t know and treat me like rubbish, don’t give me no more nothing.

What I will remember is the dignity and restraint with which you carried yourself at your father’s funeral, you who were so prone to outbursts and fits, so composed and correct in accepting the condolences of the hundred hundreds. One last time to play the oldest daughter’s role you never mastered, always daddy’s favorite but a hard hand dealt, things not quite right in your world where sometimes you heard so many voices, and the register you had to speak in to hear yourself over them never was the silver tongue of your dreams.

Except that day you did him proud. Maybe that’s why you came back at all, after the bad year when the voices shouted and you disappeared into the sticks out Mākaha, until somebody spotted you in the line at the mission and called the family. Maybe you knew you’d have one last duty—or maybe you knew nothing of fate.

I know the priest came to you for last rites. They say there will be peace in the next life, to right the harm in this one. There will be no receiving line for condolences at your funeral—no funeral but family and an urn of ashes. But this morning there was an earthquake over the ocean as you passed, as if even a life others call least moves the deepest waters, calls the bitterest salt to the tongue, is as great and boundless as any loss.



Michael Copperman’s prose has appeared in Oxford American, Gay Mag, Guernica, The Sun, Creative Nonfiction, Kenyon Review, and many others. His memoir Teacher: Two Years in the Mississippi Delta (Mississippi) was a finalist for an Oregon Book Award.




Photo by Nick Herasimenka on Unsplash

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