When her mother died,
my mother burned a letter without a sound
or complaint. In the kitchen, she made tea
and watched my father write it in Korean,
as was the custom.

It was the first poem my father had written for her—
his muscular hand and the willow pen
moved together on rice paper.
On the porch,
he lit the match
and she held the letter still
until the ashes broke.

To the boy with a basketball across the street,
the fire must have looked like an act of violence
or protest. It is not that simple,
I wanted to tell the child,
it is self-sacrifice,
something more outrageous.

The wind rattled the dried eucalyptus on the windowsill,
carrying the words, the rain-ghosts that linger
in the summer cold.

We were both filled with wishes,
my mother and I—
she let hers burn
and I went to read mine in a book of poems.

Rosanna Oh