Marilyn Chin:




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The woman wore a floral apron around her neck,
that woman from my mother's village
with a sharp cleaver in her hand.
She said, "What shall we cook tonight?
Perhaps these six tiny squid
lined up so perfectly on the block?"

She wiped her hand on the apron,
pierced the blade into the first.
There was no resistance,
no blood, only cartilage
soft as child's nose. A last
iota of ink made us wince.

Suddenly, the aroma of ginger and scallion fogged our senses,
and we absolved her for that moment's barbarism.
Then she, and elder of the tribe,
without formal headdress, without elegance,
deigned to teach the younger
about the asian plight.

And although we have traveled far
we would never forget that primal lesson
-on patience, courage, forbearance,
on how to love squid despite squid,
how to honor the village, the tribe,
the floral apron.


Your name is Diana Toy.
And all you may have for breakfast is rice gruel.
You can't spit it back into the cauldron for it would be unfilial.
You can't ask for yam gruel for there is none.
You can't hide it in the corner for it would surely be found,
and then you would be served cold, stale rice gruel.

This is the philosophy of your tong:
you, the child, must learn to understand the universe
through the port-of-entry, your mouth,
to discern bitter from sweet, pungent from bland.
You were told that the infant Buddha once devoured earth
and spewed forth the wisdom of the ages.

Meat or gruel, wine or ghee,
even if it's gruel, even if it's nothing,
that gruel, that nothingness will shine
into the oil of your mother's scrap-iron wok,
into the glare of your father's cleaver,
and dance in your porcelain bowl.

Remember, what they deny you won't hurt you.
What they spare you, you must make shine,
so shine, shine . . .



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