The Departurelisten to this poem
In winter, we pull on long underwear,
flesh colored and bulky under white socks
tucked snugly in around the ankles. Thermoses
full of hot water line up like nutcrackers
while ice bent the pipes overnight.
Grandmother searches for a picture
of grandfather, his forehead eaten by mildew.
I recount the seasons by the smell of grease
in dilapidated corners, a boy reading
in a cement one room house,
smoke rising in an open air kitchen
where an old woman is cleaning fish
and feeding scraps to the cat that belongs to no one.
Peking opera blare on the radio
like the mournful screeching of owls
in a suburban backyard in America.
I confuse the intimate with the pastoral,
was it blood or bamboo that bloomed in the alley?
Loss seals us to the ones we love
and the things we would otherwise forget-
A white streak in the sky,
a low humming overhead,
a chorus of goodbyes,
and a small voice saying, not yet.
Vegetarianlisten to this poem
Those days we ate pork filled dumplings
stuffed with shrimp, roast
beef garnished with cilantro,
a whole duck fried in sesame oil.
How to choose a bird: judge
the luster of its feathers,
the body plump, not boney,
the legs pink and elastic.
Then the ecstatic journey home-
knife gleaming in the doorway,
the red slit and river,
white feathers in the bowl,
white feathers on the pavement
beneath my feet.
This morning I split
peel from banana, pack my lunch
composed of pasta garnished
with tofu, peppers & avocado,
my dinner tastes strange to me,
a blend of Italian, Mexican and Indian,
anything but Chinese.
Mother is desolate.
It’s bad enough that I speak and act
American, now I must
eat like one too.
Oh, the difference between
necessity and pleasure,
to choose cruelty
or economy, sprigs of rosemary
between my teeth, the medicinal smell of thyme.
When I wheel past the deli counter
for another week of beans,
potatoes, cabbages, I remember
the cousins brandishing chopsticks,
grandmother’s blood spattered apron,
the thick sweet smell of duck,
the flesh and marrow
of that little bird.
Calligraphy Lessonlisten to this poem
At five, Grandfather taught me
how to write my name in Chinese.
Upper stroke shorter than lower stroke,
bar knobbed on one side, tapering
At night your hand runs over my torso,
heart thumps against the chest’s birdcage,
finger taps hard ridge of hipbone,
an echo reverberates in the marrow,
a door slamming shut in an empty room.
I am so delicate I bruise
when you caress me.
Smoke, sunlight, pine needles,
the world is that much closer
without a barrier of flesh.
Hand held to brush,
ink lean on rice paper:
So this is what it means to write
this stripping to the bare essentials,
this signaling of sense,
vertebrae balanced delicately
on hip bone, toes splayed
to hold the pressure,
the acrobatics of desire-
silence. A wind.