The Perfect Card Poem by Tricia Mae Chua

The Perfect Card

I scan through the cards on the shelf.
The simplest of tasks
Seems like the hardest thing for me to do,
trying to pick the right one for you.
None quite capturing in words
The relationship we had all these thirty-some years.

Estranged since my childhood,
Distant and troubled you were to me.
Brooding and prone to fiery anger
I could almost tell when an outburst would flare
It was like waiting for thunder after the lightning bolt
Rips through the storm-charged night
With my tiny body huddled and watching from the corner by the kitchen door
Wedged in frightful expectation beside the cold white metal refrigerator.

Mother crying. Mother leaving.
Leaving because she couldn’t stand you anymore.
A hiatus to relieve the pain from an endless deluge of hurtful words
And physical abuses. I want to be someplace else, too.
Somewhere far from the noise.

Now those years have long since past.
I’m miles away at last. No more loud shouting.
No more door slamming.
With age you’ve mellowed.
Grown despondent, hopeless, and forlorn.
In your head, despairing of life and fretful of the future.

You did try despite your crippled emotions
To be the caring parent.
I remember the cards you would give me on my birthday and on Daughter’s Day.
Messages that seemed far and detached from my own experience
Signed with the words “Papa” on the lower right hand corner
Penned in your own distinct jagged handwriting.

So here I stand today,
Undecided and unsure.
“Because you’re always thought about in such a special way”?
“Your courage and vision are beacons to fulfill my own dreams”?
“Thanks for always being there when I needed you”?
The words carry no weight at all, like dead leaves on the floor.
Ending my mental turmoil, I finally chose something generic—
“With prayers and best wishes for you father on this your special day.”
And if I could add, the words, “To a perfectly imperfect father,
I love you anyway.”

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