by Karissa Knox Sorrell
On Christmas Day 1999 the four of us
flew to Singapore from Bangkok.
The street lamps were wrapped
in red bows and when it got dark,
the heat made their light hazy.
We trekked down a trail that led
to the Southernmost Point of the Asian Continent
(though we were on an island)
and took a picture beneath the sign.
You and I had to share a room and a king bed
even though we were 17 and 21 then, so we each
picked a side and left empty a wide path
between us. Sometime in the night, you migrated
toward the middle and I woke to your
heavy breaths. I thought about before:
before we’d moved to Asia,
before we’d become children of another world,
adopted by a mother full of incense and laughter and water,
a mother tongue that came to our tongues
thick as cotton: before,
when we were regular American kids.
I remembered holding you on a pillow
the day you came home from the hospital,
our house in Kansas City with its big yard, the trees
you climbed while I danced on the grass
to my tape-deck music. On Sundays our father preached
and offered communion. At Christmas
we gathered in the den, Mom at the piano
while we sang carols, the fire blazing behind us,
That night I wondered how we had morphed
into this — how we had lost America
and found everything. How our bones
were crushed and reforged
in our birthing, how our bodies
came out of our new mother
slick and writhing, how our fear remade us
and our new motherland pressed
its fingerprints into our skin.
I had left for college and forgotten about you
and maybe about Thailand,
and I wanted to wake you up
and tell you I was sorry. I wanted
to shake you, to shake up all the history
inside of you and pour it out on the sheets between us,
if only to see my life’s ephemera
in you, too.
I had no idea that six months later, you’d be dead.
You’d die on a motorcycle in Phuket.
Singapore Christmas became the last Christmas.
That night in Singapore your breaths broke me.
Now you, unbreathing, sear my body,
you burn away my skin which sails piece by piece into the wind
and wanders over the waters we both loved, searching for your last breath.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My brother and I on Sentosa Island, Singapore (December 1999).
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is about a strange Christmas, but a Christmas I will always remember. I see this poem as an elegy for my brother, an elegy for Thailand, and also an elegy for who I once was. I enjoyed tying the ideas of holidays and grief to the idea of a mother and rebirth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Karissa Knox Sorrell is the author of Evening Body, a poetry chapbook forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. She partially grew up as an expat in Bangkok, Thailand, and now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Her poetry and essays have appeared in journals such as Gravel Mag, Flycatcher, Cargo Literary, and St. Katherine Review. Karissa is also an ESL teacher.