Poetry with Nancy

The last visits with Nancy*, I have had the incredible privilege of meeting her family! Her niece and nephew come every week (sometimes bringing their adorable, small dog with them). They tend to come on Sunday afternoons, so I get the chance to not only know them better, but also know Nancy more through their stories. 

Now, I mainly see Nancy in the visiting or guest room. It’s a spacious room located next to the dining room. Today, we talked a little bit about poetry, and I read her some of my poems. One moment remains poignant in my mind, even now. It’s a poem I wrote very long ago about my grandmother. I wanted to share some of my background and heritage with Nancy. So, I read it out loud to her. Then, she talked about the line “pounding beneath my eyelids,” and told me how much they drew forth the image of soft, hot tears from one’s eyes. For a moment, I was speechless. This was such a great observation that few have ever been able to understand. Yet, here she was. The beauty and art of poetry still so familiar to her even years after her last poem had been tangibly written.

For me, poetry has always been a way to connect with people, understand the world, and empathize with others. Yet, this experience on every single level showcased to me why I care about poetry. I could tell that Nancy was very pleased with this experience, and I want to share more of my poems with her - or even new poems that I’m reading for my creative writing workshop.

As I left, she kissed me on the cheek and I did likewise before we parted in a hug. This is something that I used to do with Pearl, and I’m so happy to do it with Nancy too. Both women are so different, but lovely at the same time. It’s been great spending time with Nancy, and I look forward to it every week.



My grandmother told beautiful stories

Her native tongue sounding foreign and

comforting in my ears

that were used to hard, harsh tones.

Like wisps of silk,

she drew up memories beneath her eyelids.


My grandmother told beautiful stories

with passionate eyes while stroking my ebony hair;

I was a mirror image; a younger version of her

But our thoughts ran on different train tracks

Yet I listened, struggling to understand

Through her words I traveled to

the natural landscape of her homeland.


My grandmother told beautiful stories

Da shang for the mountains she climbed

with my grandfather, where she inhaled in

fresh mountain air and content flowed inevitably

beneath the swollen sun, breeze in her lungs.  

Cao ping for the grassy fields where she danced

with her sisters in skirts weaved of lilac petals

to the music of bamboo wind pipes

slicing through the air.


My favorite tales were of the

Yue liang he xing xing in the vast sky

Where she ran under the dazzling comets  

Where she became a star waltzing through

Barren lands and vast fields of poppy flowers

The journey longer than life itself

Feeling dew drops form under her soles

The sky, she proclaimed,

Is the same everywhere,

In your heart, my heart,

Your tongue, my tongue


My grandmother told beautiful stories,

I drank in the words

Trying to catch every drop,  

But water cannot always heal the wounds of the heart,

the language lost to me,

her stories left only in my memories,

each word she spoke dangling before my ears,

The most important words mesmerizing me,

pounding beneath my eyelids

Wo ai ni for I love you.


*Again, name changed for privacy


- Ellen Zhang