The winter Chi Chi found out about the cancer,
I climbed the impossible hill to the train tracks.
Pulled myself up by the weeds—
fist after fist of roots giving way,
loose dirt crumbling into my mouth.
Every time there was new news,
Chi Chi took me to the river
by those abandoned tracks
and didn't look at me. Instead,
scrunched her face at the diamonds
the sun cast on the half-frozen river
where splintering ice made its way south.
Everywhere gleamed immaculate,
everything ablaze. All around us,
our small world was breaking open,
carried away by the slow-moving current.
That year the river flooded
the banks in early March
and by April we were barefoot and digging
for skipping stones with our toes.
After Chi Chi's third chemo session,
we found a deer leg that I mistook for a branch
before noticing the loose flaps of skin,
the hollow where tissue and socket
should have been.
We fancied the rest of the body wrecked
cargo: antlers, ribs, spare parts
once stiff in slabs of ice—
gifts upon spring melt.
Chi Chi untied her scarf,
and wrapped it carefully around the leg.
I helped her climb to the tracks
where wildflowers multiplied
and vines patiently wrapped
themselves. We buried the deer
beneath blooming bloodroot
and trillium, our soles wet
with crushed petals and red sap.
We moved slowly.
All around us: tiny sighs of the living, the breathing.
Susan Nguyen hails from Virginia but currently lives in the desert where she is hard at work on her MFA in poetry at Arizona State University. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming from [PANK], diode, and decomP. She recently received a Global Teaching Fellowship from the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.