From Chinatown to Home

The Chinese women lift fat shrimps

stylish between chopsticks

their partners take mouthfuls of rice

each grain a potential lost lamb

on the field-flowered red tablecloth

I wait for something to fall —it doesn’t

 

Slipping duck and sesame chicken

into orange and plum sauces

it’s all so delicate, a centuries-old ritual

fingers dipping in and out of porcelain,

reminiscent of last night’s sword dance,

heavy blades swinging in the air swishing

dangerous between leaps, slicing too close

to necks, legs, kimono clad

 

Bodies —flesh colored peppers, bean sprouts,

steaming dim sum, tiny pieces of fish,

sieze and swallow like Chien Tung pick-up sticks

they select and lift, gobble and swallow
—all perfect.

 

Their voices are too loud —strident even

the room rings with agitated conversation

are they arguing, angry, discussing which party

to vote for, someone’s infidelity perhaps,

recalling a family feud?

 

We westerners converse in muted tones

grapple with our Chow Mein, wind forks into

spoons like spaghetti, look down ashamed

a blotch of red sweet and sour has stained

our tablecloth, some errant grains of rice,

a stray noodle.  Outside trams clang, people

walk by with packages, swift on their business

—no collisions here.

 

I fumble for money, my glasses, drop my purse

apologize, stumble on the step going out,

wish once again I could understand Chinese,

I take the complimentary chopsticks home,

still wrapped, to languish in the drawer

untouched in their cellophaned silence
—aloof like watchful cats

besides the noisy knives and forks.

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© Johnmichael Simon

2006

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