i. smile wrinkles | 笑纹
They curl outwards, stretching themselves to bask in the sun: soft grooves twined upon aged skin. They remind me of parentheses, whispering quietly after a sentence; filled with memories of summer heat and full-moon harvest; monsoon rains and terraced farmlands; the graves of lives cut short, and the many springs of new birth.
I’ve never quite known what to call them. There’s “crow’s feet”, of course, and “rays of the sun”, or simply “wrinkles”, but my grandmother calls them “smile wrinkles”--those which fleck the corners of her eyes. When I was younger, I used to promise to myself: when I get old, 笑纹 [smile wrinkles] will be the only wrinkles I have.
My grandmother is the embodiment of joy. When she smiles, her entire being glows: she stands taller, her lips tug upwards, and her eyes crinkle in the corners, golden, like hot bowls of soup. Her eyes tell stories; the wrinkles around them of a hard life filled with small, yet profound delights.
My grandmother is one of “those people” in life. It’s one of those people who you’d never know would bring so much light, fill up so much space, yet is one of the smallest people in the room. She has made the best bread I’ve ever tasted, and travels, in spirit, over 7,000 miles every month to call me and my family over the phone.
I could go on and on until the world ran out of words and I ran out of metaphors, but this story is about her eyes, and my eyes. Because, I’m still convinced, that if you look at them close enough, you can see sunbeams.
ii. my grandmother tells me a story | 奶奶的故事
The first time I visited China was in the summer of fifth grade. Between hot
afternoons and damp monsoons I found myself listening to my grandmother’s voice amongst the drumming of the rain. And her voice told stories.
One night before bed, she paused to stir the pea soup simmering on the stove. I took in a deep breath, lying on blanket spread out on her apartment floor, and ask her to tell me a story.
“Do you know where our eyes come from?” She asked after a moment.
I wrinkle my face. “I ordered them online, and one day they came into the mail and I stuffed them into my eyeholes.”
“If you want,” my grandmother laughs. “But let me tell you a story.”
And so I listen.
My eyes were born in a kitchen kiln. They grew from cracked bone china; the murky tips of lotus roots, the seed-eye holes, festooning shower heads spraying water, eyes growing like weeds.
The weeds grew taller, engulfed in sheets of sky. Sleet fell, winter wrapped around the arms of spring like a blanket. The eyes grew, still; the kiln burned brighter.
The sun rose.
In fields of wildflowers and lonely melodies, the reaper’s harvest began. In sweeps of scythe, wheat fell, and the eyes burned like sulfur rising from the underworld.
They found homes.
The eyes, that is.
The eyes of our proud ancestors, sculpted from jade, cooked for years—they are beautiful.
The eyes grew wings and planted themselves in the sockets of children, sunbeams leaking through, and I could see, and you could see.
I watch my grandmother’s eyes shift and gaze and shimmer in the soft evening light, her smile wrinkles folding mischievously.
“I don’t believe it,” I said.
“It’s not real,” she replied.
I fell asleep moments after.
She has told me the same story for fifteen years, each time with fervor, each time with purpose. My grandmother is humble, but she will always take pride in who she is
And each time she tells me, I believe her a little more.
iii. eyes that slant in the corners | 骨瓷的哭泣
Bone china: ashes weeping into clay; vines squeezing daylight out. Porcelain tea cups and cold flowers, old rooms hosting fire, whispering in the hearth.
The first time that I learned the story was wrong was in seventh grade. It wasn’t that it wasn’t real—of course every bit of it was imagined, concocted up in a sea of ancient stories, brewed up with fine wine—but that didn’t mean it wasn’t wrong.
Clouds cover the sun, smile wrinkles fading into dust.
Why are your eyes so small?
Can you see the board okay? Open up!
Your eyes look like slits. You’re a fox.
I stopped smiling, because who has time to smile when you’re too busy opening your eyes wide enough for the world to leak into them, and burn them from the inside out?
I looked in the mirror and held my eyelids back with my fingers, because in a world where you are never enough, who gets to be beautiful?
Ants crawl up my throat and close my eyes, at last.
My grandmother’s story lies forgotten, gathering dust, in the corners of my mind where the monsters lurked. I fought them, until I could not, and I realized that the only monster was me.
iv. a word that wilts on my tongue | 在嘴上枯萎的字
I have forgotten how to smile.
v. dragon | 龙之怒
But, who gets to tell me? Who gets to burn my grandmother’s storybook and write our worth? Who decides who I can, and can’t be?
My eyes and my grandmother’s eyes are the embodiment of our culture, and for that, I am so, so proud.
And if eyes are the window to the soul, my eyes are copper, burning bright, magnesium strips set on fire, the rustle of brown autumn leaves melting into chocolate mousse cake.
If only eyes that are big are beautiful, let my heart be so big the size of my eyes will no longer matter.
In a world where only some can be beautiful, none can be beautiful. And if my eyes are truly slanted in the corners, let the rays of the sun leak through, thicker than blood, and shine upon the world.
The ants crawling up my throat become oxygen, and the dragon becomes my companion, the fire within. I ride the spirits of my ancestors, my eyes shining bright, because I am no longer ashamed.
vi. rays of the sun | 太阳的光芒
And finally, I smile, my mouth turning into the corners of my grandmother’s eyes, which radiate and extend into the rays of the sun.
Rue (she/her) is a writer from the Mid-Atlantic. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Alliance, Aster Lit, The Blue Marble Review, and TribLive, among others. She currently contributes as photography editor & opinion writer for her school newspaper. While she’s not consuming her body weight in blueberries, you can find her debating something philosophical with friends, or running with her track team!
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