See Infra

Digging at the confluence of culture and everything else

At the Dinner Table

氣 (qǐ): meaning breath, air, energy, spirit, life force.
生氣 (shēng qǐ): meaning anger, literally birthing air.
火大 (huò dà): meaning extreme anger, literally big fire.

Father’s Father taught physics
while students carried their slates;
even as Japanese soldiers gave chase.

Mother’s Father taught too,
the right politics and skills
but to the losing side.

Two grandfathers
trapped on two islands
with Chinese language
Chinese students
and Chinese food.

My parents left
and I was born free
from my birthright.

Mother rebuilt the nation with every meal.
The dinner table was Fujian
seasoned with a splash of Shanghai.
China in Michigan
by way of Taipei.

Grade school failures stole China from me.
Disappointed Chinese mother,
and furious Chinese father,
blew English lectures across the dinner table.

Father and I were windstorms
captured by our lungs
and imprisoned by a beating furnace.
Winds do nothing but push.

Dueling winds made tornados,
splintering thrones,
spilling ceramic islands.
Sinking China.

My smile died for ten years.

Food that hurts,
burns,
cuts.
It made father’s eyes sweat
and my brow tear.

Without the pain
the mouth runs free.
At the dinner table chewing
was the sound of peace.

Our words hurt when they brush the skin.
Breath burns,
not by purpose
but by nature.

Fire is how father and I create
the gas range is the forge
never set lower than seven.

“The Cantonese call it the spirit of the flame!” he said.
He never believed in spirits,
he hates hot air.
But, he understands fire.

You need heat to forge steel,
carbon pain and iron threats,
the awful flame he uses
to save lives.

Incinerate the cancer,
heal the patient.
Extinguish the rebellion,
Remove the failure.
Recrimination is redemption.

Heat is my family’s definition of love.

The tornado passes.
In the wake,
drops of salted rain.

Regrets are found
in the ruins of China
But storms destroy
and salt soothes no wounds.

Things don’t have words that burn,
tongues that trip.
Plastic dragons don’t breathe fire.
Things don’t have to push.
Things have hidden words
I can hear over the wind.

We forgive,
firm the foundations
for a future fighting fires.
China rebuilt again.

Storm season must end
before the next must begin.
Seasons upon seasons,
we fare each better than the last.

I am still a windstorm.
My wife a willow,
strong because she bends.

My families will never be safe from fire.
But I now know how to bend
and how to rebuild.

My smile has returned.

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