Devils, Our Sons

Karissa Chen

Our sons told us to place the steel cleavers we used to butcher hogs and chickens beneath our pillows, in case our enemies appeared. They may look like you and me but they are devils, our blue sons said. They are devils, our green sons said too. They will take the pigs, they will steal the jewels, they will rape you and our little sisters, and you must not have mercy. Our boys left us at all times of day — near dawn, before the birds woke from their nests and as the calves were just beginning to stir; midday, bellies full of rice porridge we’d heaped with pork, fish, or tender spring shoots; at dusk, the sky awash in the same shade of blue we dyed their pajamas, their names stitched inside the sleeves. In blue, in green, they stood tall beside horse-drawn carts or on train platforms or by roads they once played in, their faces tilted in proud, grim smiles, their shoulders pressed back. We will bring you honor, they said, we will bring you a new China. They told us they were bound by duty. We saw their skinny limbs, baby fat still visible in their cheeks. We saw the fear of nighttime in the shadows beneath their eyes. They are traitorous dogs, said our blue boys. They are traitorous dogs, our green boys said too. We imagined the men our sons described to us, eyes black like beetles. We imagined them taking aim with their rifles, tearing down fields with bayonets, hurting our little boys. We imagined our babies crying for us as they fell, their blood spilled over rusty earth, and then forced ourselves to stop imagining. We pressed oranges or pomegranates or hard-boiled eggs into their hands. We pleaded with them to stay or we stayed silent. We swallowed our bitterness. We remembered when they skipped through the rice paddies or through the fields, how they fed the chickens and played with the dogs, how they tormented their little brothers and sisters. We thought of the war, we thought of our country, we tried to be proud, we were proud. We clutched their hands. We gripped their sleeves. We held back tears. We wept loudly. We thought of the times we reprimanded them, the times we beat the backs of their legs, the times we wished them away. We said their names. We reminded them they were precious. We looked to the north. We looked to the south. We looked at their heroic faces. Save yourselves, we told them. Save yourselves. Whatever you do, you must come home. We kissed them. We prayed for them. We watched their backs as they disappeared. We watched. They disappeared.