Elizabeth Kao

Today, her head is spinning, just like yesterday, 
And the day before that. She is dizzy, experiencing 
pain we can’t know unless our heads have hurt like
she hurts now. All she wants is to lie down, and
when we tell her she just woke up, she says she
can’t sleep, because we don’t understand that
she’s not concerned with the sleeping. She’s the
same with food, telling us everything tastes bad,
merely eating to keep from being hungry.

She felt nothing to be worth doing after the fence fell, 
just another part of a neglected house, but not 
so neglected as to scream injustice to the world.
No one would mind that she did nothing, nor 
would she–or more accurately, she didn’t care.
So she turned inward, after seventy-three years of 
War, raising a daughter and two sons, watching the 
grandchildren for them, then left alone because 
she seemed strong, for their convenience.

Tomorrow she will get up, eat breakfast, and sit 
in her chair. By the afternoon, she will lie down in
her bed again, staring into space, wishing the pain
but not-pain will go away. And we blame a
chemical imbalance and wonder whether we should
have brought her to live with us, or put her in 
another home, but ultimately decide that we can’t
do much without affecting the normality of our lives,
what people will say, the time we have to give.

And I wonder whether I should hope for her to ever 
get better, to be the grandmother who will tell
stories of life in Shandong, who will sing
and will show me jump-roping tricks. 
I’m afraid to hope for things
that may not happen.
I ask if I don’t care
or can’t care, 
or will care.

About the poet:

Elizabeth Kao, a graduating senior in biology at Stanford University, will begin medical school in August. Her interests include how people think, Russian literature, and Ultimate Frisbee. She believes in placing your identity in something you cannot lose and is grateful to Dr. Larry Zaroff for encouraging her to write.

About the poem:

This poem reflects upon depression and a grandchild’s wish that she and her family could appreciate and care for her grandmother more.

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro

About the Poem


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