THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


Lope

by by Leah Bromberg

(with an object)

1.   (Of four-legged animals) to move or run with a regular bounding movement.
2.   To cause (a horse) to canter with swift, easy strides.
3.   My Atso, great-grandmother, whom I have met but cannot remember, you are young and lovely in your first photograph. But the face in the second portrait, painted when you are an older woman, is unsmiling. You have lost the color of your lips, and the irises have changed. The light has left your eyes. My father had always called your marriage unromantic, and my mother refused to speak. You lost the first name of your family for a young tutor. Your family never intended for him to teach you that. At seventeen I want to know why you found Ai a greater name, why this word which means “love” lost its shape in your mouth.
4.   Along these walls of calligraphy and Taiwanese paintings in large halls, the small frame seems to tuck itself into a corner. The face of the woman is unsmiling. I am preoccupied by this lack of a smile.  The red pain of her mouth arcs downward in a fallen half-moon.  Would it have been too much to ask the painter to lie with the horsehairs of his tool, and fill each pupil with light? I have seen the faces of the serious before, of unsmiling mouths. For them, the smile becomes a choice, and the person chooses to assume an air of gravity.  When I look at her though, I realize suddenly that she is no longer able to smile. At the front of the house is a black and white photo of my Atso forty years younger. She holds Agang, my grandfather, a small baby on her lap. In the days stretching between the two pictures I learn that she has just eloped with her tutor. I learn that her aristocratic house has just disinherited her. I learn that she will lose her heart in seven years. In the black and white photograph, light fills her pupils. She smiles shyly. I am troubled by the knowledge that red paint will not retrace that smile.
4.   My Atso, great-grandmother, was born into a large house and her mother had small feet.  My great-grandfather was born into a small town, and had no father, and his mother had nothing. When he turned nine he found two, large wooden shoes placed before him.  Someone told him that he must fill those large shoes.  My Atso’s mother had small feet in little box shoes. Atso was the first woman to walk without baby steps in little boxes.
6.   Foot binding was a custom practiced on young girls and women in China for ten long centuries. The bones in the foot are broken and re-broken so that the foot remains too small to support the body.
7.   When the sun was thinner, and her own shadow more narrow, she used to wait for him. Books filled with love poetry hung about her.  But the words could only make her cry when (he) read them aloud.  He was young, and wore clothes like a Westerner. His hands never sank so deeply into his pockets, like the men in her family. His hands were always open—they stretched across the table, opened up her books, turned her pages, pointed to lines that were inscribing a word into her pupils which she was only just understanding.  One day, his hands were so full that she forgot his pockets where empty, and she stretched open her left hand. She wanted to feel the weight of her hand in his. But when she tried to touch his hands, her family snatched her wrists, and bound them.
8.   My great-grandmother ran with a regular bounding movement. In swift strides she crossed the boundary between this, your inheritance, and (that), your worker; between this, your family, and (that), your penniless man; between this, your blood, and (that), your horse.  He was your tutor, but we teach the lesson. She was the first woman to run away from that house, and did her family weep over this, their daughter, or (that), her feet unbounded?


(without an object)

1.   To move or run with bounding steps, as a quadruped, or with long, easy strides, as a person.
2.   To canter leisurely.
3.   He left his (wife) when they were still young. He ran away across the ocean, and entered into the mainland for business. (She) stayed on the island Formosa. A world’s war collapsed between the waters, against them, across them.  When he finally returned, he found (her) beauty had faded.  He found that he had forgotten to love his native country.  He left for Japan.  She stayed in that house. (    ) lost the ability to smile.  The place where her mouth should have been, the painter made a (w)hole.
4.   My first memory of that house is the way that art spills across tables and drawers, falls along a hallway, clutters a dead tree, erases corners. My grandparents have filled each white face of each empty wall with the pigments of expensive paintings, antique teacups, pianos, black iron gongs, a golden dragon, red papers for good luck, the alphabet of fortune, costly jade pendants. When I went, my Agung held up this glittering stone and tricked himself into thinking my eyes glittered too.
5.   At seventeen I learned how many people were missing from the walls. I learned why I could not find a picture of my great-grandmother with her husband.  He never died in Taiwan, where she lived in that house. I learned his portrait had been hung by another woman’s arms, somewhere in Japan. After my eldest aunt married, they refused to hang any more pictures of her. She is perpetually twenty-one years old in that house. I have not seen her husband for seventeen years. They never asked why my first uncle severed his marriage. They rejected the woman my second uncle married. They refused the woman whom my youngest uncle loved.
6.   Now the house has changed, grown so large there is nothing to fill it anymore. The definition of a leap in the mind: that I once found it cluttered. And now the paintings have turned into windowless panes of glass, black iron souls with the heart knocked out of the stomach. And good luck papers bleeding red can be smeared with too much blood I did not know, I am sorry. I did not see this was the bleeding of a family.  This was a house, was a hand half-empty.
7.   My Atso, great-grandmother.  You were young and lovely in your first photograph.


Tao Zau (Taiwanese)

1.   “To elope.”
2.   Translation.
3.   The shape of this word in Atso’s language.
4.   The sounds which would have filled her ears.
5.   A noise. Tao:“Steal.”  Zau: “Walk away.”
6.   Boxes, shoes,   footsteps,           breaking
7.   “Leave” has two definitions.  My Atso learned these seven years apart.  The second definition moved the smile from her face.
8.   The moon moves through an absence in heaven.  She wonders if the crescent shape is a smiling mouth or a hand half-empty.
9.   When I was fourteen, I became your wife, so shy that still my face remained unopened.  I bowed my head towards the shadowed wall, and called one-thousand times, and turned not once.
When I was sixteen, you left.


Li Bai (Poet my Atso studied with my great-grandfather)