Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017


by Ying Wu

“What’s dying like?” my daughter asks.
We’re in the shade on a patch of grass
by St. Luke Phoenix hospital.
“Do you hold your breath?”
My uncle was awake today.
He lifted his head; I smiled and waved.
This could have been a greeting
over Starbucks morning coffee—
but he’s intubated on life support,
and all I said was, “Hi, Jim”—
then thoughts and words dissolved.
His head lolled sideways.
I stared at the ventilator.
Voices from the hallway.
Happy hour. Kebabs and sliders.
The smell of sanitized linens.
The itchy spot in my sweater sleeve.
When he fell asleep,
his eyes rolled backwards
and I watched the convex edge
of his corneas
fluttering back and forth.
His lower eyelids no longer close.
“Does dying mean you hold
your breath for twenty days?”
My daughter tugs my shirt.
“You never breathe again,” I say.
Is that a million days?
Two million days?
Twenty million days one hundred?
The tugging stops when I concede.
But then, it starts back up again.
“What’s a million like?”


—Selected for Honorable Mention in the competition for the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize 2016, and first published in the San Diego Poetry Annual 2016-17 (Garden Oak Press, February 2017); appears here with permissions from both poet and publisher.


SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

Ying Wu

studies the cognitive and brain mechanisms mediating creativity and insight, and is an active member of the literary community in San Diego County. Her creative work appears in The San Diego Poetry Annual, Serving House Journal, Blue Heron Review, Poetry in Motion, and Teacup Magazine, and was featured in Poetry Super Highway (29 September–5 October 2014). She is a recipient of a fellowship from the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts, and is working on her first book.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury