Getting the Message by Larry Smith

I find Chinese writing on the bathroom mirror, a large scroll of a dozen characters. I don’t write or read Chinese, and no one has been here in days. So much of life a mystery, and we the Emperor without clothes.

I take the mirror’s photo and text it to Mei, my Chinese friend who lives in Taiwan now. It may be days before I hear back, and so I continue my routine of crapping, washing, shaving, brushing, as though the key to this secret will surely be delivered soon, like a package from UPS.

Opening a book, watching a film, listening to a story—such hope and trust, so often betrayed.

Only once did my grandfather sit me down to tell me his life story. I was just a boy of eight sitting with him on their front porch swing, listening but unable to take it all in or to remember. We never spoke of it again, so it remains a dream away. Years later, my mother told me that he had been diagnosed with cancer and was to die soon. But his secret would remain.

Birds cry outside the window. I wipe the mirror with a wet cloth.

Larry Smith is the author of 8 books of poetry and 5 books of fiction. He directs Bottom Dog Press in Ohio and is professor emeritus of Bowling Green State University, Firelands College. He was raised in the industrial Ohio River Valley and now lives along Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio.

Photo by Yanal Tayyem