How to Catch a Sun
After her older cousin from the city told her that
staring into an eclipse gives the ability to see into the future, Sun
Huiyang looked. It was 1928 in Eastern Sichuan, she was twelve, and the sun
was a disk around a black moon. She looked until she went blind. Her eyes
turned to milk and she couldn't see the next day or the day after.
At twenty-one, she married a man who liked to put his hands on her waist and
tell her she had the ribcage of an opera singer. When he died, his family
said it was her ghost eyes that gave him the blood cough. The way she looked
at him. The way she never did. They buried her husband on an auspicious hill
and threw her out pregnant after they finished the burning of paper money.
On the streets, she wove bamboo baskets, needles in her fingertips, until
the missionaries took her in because they saw a saintliness in her blindness
and the jaundice in her baby boy. Her son was un-yellowed, given a Christian
education, then a city one, then mathematics in college. When he came home
from school, he talked of vectors and probabilities. When he left, he sent
money home every month and tallied the amounts in a notebook stitched with
Two wars and one revolution later, her son brought her to Maryland. It was
1995 and they went to the beach every weekend in the summer. Salt in her
lashes, she explained to her four-year-old granddaughter, Sun for
descendant. Hui for kindness. Yang for poplar tree. I may have milk in my
eyes but my back is always straight.
The granddaughter laughed as if a great joke had been told. The girl ran to
the ocean where the water begins to froth. She came back with a yellow pail
full of water and ground it into the sand between the old woman's feet.
Look, Grandma, the girl said, I caught the sun. A noon sun
had dropped into the bucket, bobbing up and down like a beach ball. Sun
Huiyang felt the mouth of the plastic bucket and dipped her hands in.
The water was colder than she expected. She could feel the loose swimming
sand on her skin and traces of algae that hurried between her fingers. She
saw the color red. A lit-within orb kind of red.
The red lanterns from her wedding day. The ones that hung from the sedan
chair she sat in as they carried her to her husband's village. She
remembered hearing the tap of paper against wood as the lanterns knocked in
the wind. Now she could see them sway and flicker.
She saw the windshield flashes of white afternoon sun the first time she
rode in a car in the passenger seat next to the missionary man, a sack of
rice at her feet, drinking in the accelerated wind, bubbling from the swift
sounds of leaves and gravel.
She saw the many faces of her son. The creases in his face when he cried.
The smooth sleeping face after crying. Wide-eyed when he first went to
school. Crumb-mouthed when he came back as if he were still hungry for
something. The angry face when people asked him what was wrong with that
poor woman like she was a deaf-mute hanging onto his arm. The noble face
with pain pressed into the crevices when he told his mother he was going to
leave because he had the chance.
She remembered how, thirty years after the eclipse, she had recognized her
older cousin's voice at a town rally. Her cousin, a county official then,
was giving a speech about meeting the end-of-year goal of smelting two
thousand tons of steel, and his voice had a ring of such truth that the
farmers rushed home to melt their pots and pans, and pulled the nails from
their floors. Huiyang had stayed seated, and her cousin had come over full
of pity and impatience for the strange blind woman alone on the long wooden
bench. She could see now how her cousin's face had grown brown and oily with
age, how the pockmarks had gathered as if grains of rice had been pressed
in, then rinsed away. For a long time she had wanted to claw that face until
it peeled off.
She thought of the last thing she saw: a white ring of sun she had wanted to
Two wars and one revolution later, she could finally fill in the colors. It
was like painting a film long after it was shot in black-and-white. She
pulled her hands out of the bucket and dripped them down the sides of the
beach chair. There was a shaking inside her that she wanted to keep. She
felt for her granddaughter's hand — that small, soft thing that must have
been somewhere nearby.
Come here little one, she said. Let me tell you about the things I've
Yun Wei works in global health development. She has an MFA in poetry from
Read her postcard.
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
W i g l e a f