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As the intensity of morning light increases, it signals to different species of birds when to start their morning song. Each bird is prompted to sing by its own special light.

When I visited China, I had in hand my grandmothers INS interrogation which detailed the few belongings they had in hand when they left China, as well as the several dead, young and old, they were leaving behind. In it, she also recounted a gold ring her father had brought to her from America that she lost. I would inherit this reminder of impossible frugality like a mistaken familiar voice in a crowd. As my own trip wore on, I was accumulating breastmilk that I pumped every few hours for relief, but also so that I could return home to nurse my child.

After dumping a heartbreaking amount of milk in China, I persevered the survival of a small frozen stash of milk through five cities (via ferries, taxis, subways, three domestic planes, and a train, all between four separate hotels) and finally across the Pacific ocean home.

By Summer Lee (Photo of pouring my breastmilk off the Great Wall of China, 2014. Summer Lee)

This trip symbolized the means of how an artwork based on my grandmother would come to be exhibited in the region where she was born. And soon, it will enter the permanent collection of that museum, as if I were the unwitting intermediary to repatriate her bones.

Several years ago, I was contacted for a potential exhibit at a university a few hours from my home, a show which took years to come to fruition. Finally this last week, during the same time my grandmother’s piece is in China, the show opened, and one of the paintings chosen for this exhibit is a watercolor of my grandmother’s husband, my grandfather, who was born in the same unlikely town of Stockton, where the university exhibit is located.

I don’t know if birds have homes, but I imagine they are more at home in the state of homelessness than I am, singing on account of the light, as much location.  In this winter of coincidental homecomings for my grandparents, I have become unhoused at the bird feeder of my yard. After so many years, a grasshopper sparrow, a spritely, smaller-sized, streaked sparrow, who was committed to my feeder winter after winter, has not returned. I will never know why, and I have no bones of his to return, nor an understanding of where his song might be.

This dawn chorus is ever a changing one.


(Photo taken by my friend, of where the restored Great Wall meets the ancient wall, 2014)