Archives for category: Inheritance

Last spring, my cousin in this story came to Minneapolis with his wife and two adult children to visit. I have only seen him a handful of times as an adult, and it always seems surprising that he is now a grown man. My memories of visiting Thailand as a child include him — a lanky, laughing boy with a buzz cut and the school uniform of navy blue shorts, white shirt — and our adventures together. 


Light streams through curtains of dust.

With my cousin I climb, each step waking more dust.

Hooked on our fingers like elaborate rings

are several small straw cages,

tiny birds cheeping inside.

We come into a room, wooden beams, wooden floors,

empty, but for sunlight from the windows at front.

Dust, wood, light – these muffle the busy sounds below.

At the windows, we lean out to the sunshine.

And then we begin:  taking one cage at a time,

we open it, sending each bird into the light.


I am interested in the idea of inheritance — gifts from those who have left our earthly world. They might be material, but could also be intangible. The inheritance of language, names, physical features, mannerisms, all matter as much, or more than, money and things. My grandfather did leave things, but the inheritance I have and most love from him are the stories my family shares. This is my memory of the things — the money is gone, but the story remains.


The evening dragged on.  The lawyer

and my two uncles sat in the

living room, talking quietly.

For the daughters and children

of daughters, the talk hardly mattered,

and we sat around the table

eating longan fruit.

Sticky juice ran down our arms

and brown skins spilled over the

edges of the bowl.  Grandfather

was a Hindu.  We knew

everything would go to the sons.


“Slap!”  Papers

thrown angrily on the table.

An uncle’s loud voice,

our silence, another uncle’s voice.

The nervous lawyer, speaking

softly but too quickly.

“They are arguing about money,”

my aunty said.  The words

ran, fast, climbing higher, until they

started to descend, breathing

slowed, and the uncles

sat down again.


And then, as if from a dream,

someone threw handfuls of

money into the air.  Money from

Grandfather, I suppose.  Screaming with

excitement, we jumped up to catch

the money as it came down.  Colorful Thai

bills floated above us, suspended in the air

a moment or two.  Breath held, silence,

eyes focused on the soft flutter of

reds, greens, blues – nothing but

paper, but everything we had

at that moment – that seemed to rise

higher before dancing down.

Sound returned, arms reached

high, children crouched low,

crawling between the legs of

adults, reaching for our inheritance.


This memory of my grandfather — my only one — is among my first and most vivid memories. From it, I have been able to construct an image of him that matches the stories I have been told. I am very aware of how difficult it is to discern the truth from images and stories, but this is what I have. So I hold it close.

In my memory, the room is dark,

but sunlight filters in from somewhere above,

casting a dusty light.

A red carpeted path divides the room.

On either side are tall stacks of

paper, boxes, and bolts of cloth.

My grandfather sits at the end,

behind an enormous desk.

Dark skin, heavy eyebrows,

thick hair in streaks of

gray and white and black,

and light clothing that glows

in the dark room, against dark skin.

He is large, a giant.

I have only this one memory.

Lack of memory is nothing, weightless.

But this one pebble I hold tight.

I am afraid of losing it.

As I follow the long red path,

I feel small, but sure.  I have

done this before.  I am not

afraid of the light at the end.

When I finally arrive,

he lifts me onto his lap.

He takes the tin from behind.

It was the tin I wanted.

He opens it, the sugar smell

cuts through the dust, and

he offers me a biscuit.

I was four years old.

I have often thought that one reason for religion and spirituality is to grapple with the mystery of those no longer with us. How do we explain the power those we loved have over our lives, even after they are gone from the earth? Their presence continues on in some way, guiding us in how we, the still living, carry out our lives. My human, mortal self longs to understand the world the dead inhabit, and for a deeper connection to the world they left behind.


The day Grandfather died, he came to life for me,

woke up from murky memory, grew colorful in

stories.  The world – it grew larger, too, drawing

me deeper in and around it, connecting me

to the rhythm of life, not just mine, but others,

family, living and dead.  It was as if Grandfather’s

matter was reaching out to me, holding me closer

to the earth.  I have not been to the Ganges,

where his ashes float with those of others in my

family I have never known.  When I do, I will ask a

pundit waiting on the banks of the river to look

in his book, and find record of all the names of

my family brought to the river.  All

mixed in there, in the silt at the bottom, at the

muddy banks, flowing in the currents are the

dusty remains of my family.  I will cup that water

in my hands and feel the flow of relation running

through my fingers, and know them as my own.