Fortune Cookies, Too The son becomes the father when the father passes your obligation becomes your life We replace the old hardwood living room with thick gray carpet it’s not an accident if you allow it Katie’s waist thins over time stretches mark the months Billy depended on her make sure to caress them when you bathe Mother spends the day with her grandson the sparkling boy waits to become a man everyone loves you, she says His first word makes Katie feel like a mother his second muffled just too obscure The cognac is to remember him. everything else; habits over time never too much just enough to keep warm. He can’t be replaced she screams from the bathroom we’ll find him if it’s the last thing I do The salt in her tears remind me to keep her face on my neck when she cries Don’t try seeing around corners make slow wide turns a moderate speed is key His face blank when he sees his younger sisters distorted reflections of time sometimes the experience is neither joy nor sorrow Katies weeps as she squeezes and feels him all over. make sure parts are not missing. -Saechao
The Next Day As our language thrived father faltered in his bed trying to push his once strong thoughts the noise he succumbed to the pitter patter beeps from machines sounds of the gong My nephew blows into a fifty year-old rhino horn for fun delight mimicking the old man in flowing silks and flat linens he hops around like a manic Easter Bunny pink and red and white flapping against the wind According to records he could have been fifty-five the next day but who knows about the next day she wakes and walks into a room of smoke smell of freshly slaughtered swine the horror hidden when she sees the lips of the creature, already puckered pursed for a devilish kiss Shrill cry of the child ripping the room’s sheet of smoke I hand my young nephew to her the reluctant acceptance he reaches right for her brown tresses still ruffled from the cat nap I almost felt bad about sleeping with her the night before we were quiet, almost motionless. Breathless. The unfamiliar room. I wanted a new life a replacement someone new to love the timing was wrong it never happened The words terse, ensuring no slips. Nothing wasted, nothing given. Guarding ourselves; what can happen. Oh, the memories. The soundtrack the light provides the clichés we avoid with might we don’t want to make love pushing the trap away the scorn we possess And we watched then waited. And we talked then waited. Driving through the hills with the beautiful trees dying again with their sunset foliage: This exodus into the ground. -Saechao
Wanderers Looking for a place to settle my Father walked me between the tracks leading to the next town, our town with a different name, familiar enough. Trains push air under dust, it is so dry, our breathing; like eating dirt from the earth. It’s a drought, he says, not looking at me. Our destination is not visible curves hide what we’re looking for we see buildings above treetops Later, Father pours Tennessee whiskey from his flask onto my bee sting, Russian vodka into my shot glass; we bond that way desecrating our bodies. My Father talked into the night, our loose rhetoric. His stories’ morals I can’t live with his heroes suffering less than he has. I mumble his words to my wife, not verbatim, and in English; I don’t remember exactly what he said. My artificial intelligence, resident of a child’s closet, remains untouched, unblemished. -Xiong
Chapter One – The Dragon’s Wok
He catches me trying to slip out of the door.
In a game we’ve been playing since his third day home from the hospital, the difference now is he can chase me, albeit with wobbly steps. Like always, he looks up, eyes questioning where and why I’m going. At first, I stopped so he wouldn’t cry, though he had never given me any reason to believe he would. Now, I want to be caught. I want to explain the destination, to promise an early return, to kiss him on his forehead.
We meet halfway in the living room and I scoop him off the carpet.
He leans his padded cheek against my ear as we twirl in front of my mother.
Turning my head, my lips to his ears, I whisper words he has heard many times, a secret I hope he remembers. Before too long, my restless mother asks to hand him over, and I kiss his forehead before holding him out to her arms. I can feel them watching me walk out of the room and the front door.
Migrant Burden Migraine headache a migrant backache from father to son. An American daughter-in-law our burden together. Donna wears her emotions on a flushed pale face washed with ivory cream what she brings to the table white rice mother taught her to wash and steam. Her father and brother wonder why I never finished business school, but her mother is happy her daughter is happy. We drink red wine, Sonoma, Sunday afternoons, after everyone gets home from church; sitting on the verandah watching working cars go by speaking of Marx and Aquinas they are intrigued but don’t understand my religion something Donna picked up when we met at Catholic school after late morning mass I was studying alone in my room my father wanted a private education I don’t show the pain father says I have a hard case, a soft heart hidden from the people I know especially Donna’s little brother whom I gave shooting lessons aim and technique— elbow in, shoulders squared —but no concentration, unnerved easily something his father detests my son’s burden a homeless father telling him he needs to be home by midnight instead of orchard parties surrounding pumpkin patches, where the girls are prone to get naked and pregnant. -Saechao
Simple Clarity For Jean Donnelly Oh, Jean, it’s okay If you do it beautifully, My name’s rhyme Nothing else should Clarify so simple The pen’s condensation A long draught The ink’s condescension A first draft The end product begins logic Who creates I know I shall meet— The scholars—and The daffodils— At night the moon— Diving into the— Neither rosy nor prim is like— My country is—cross A young boy lying Underneath crying So much— —as such, I will sleep Near it. -O'Connell
Untitled T’is the difference between bad poetry and good: Bad poetry sometimes enthralls the way a pretty girl standing at the bar attracts the eyes and tugs impulses. Good poetry moves. -Saechao
Fortune Cookies My father speaks before the family at the dinner table. [My mother provides the translations.] Upon birth I cried, coming out headfirst. “Happy days are just over the mountaintop. The struggle has ended.” She brings countless plates; frisbees with food for my American friends. He eyes them and grins. (Chew. Don’t choke. Moderation is key.) His face is flushed; blushing from the cognac. A request. Do we have any rice wine? He smiles. “Soon, a lifelong friend shall be made.” Katie wants a platinum ring with diamonds, not gold bars and a beheaded chicken. “You have a strong desire. But wait, family interests come first.” Je t’aime, mais j’adore mon père. Oui, je comprend... mais, voulez-vous coucher avec moi? It’s a romance language. (Fuck you!) Aix meih! In the foothills, the sun shines on the priest. I do. “Faulty confessions— are next to innocence.” Yie mv hiuv. During the holidays, our waists become thicker, the air becomes thinner. “Hire a blonde secretary,” he says. We eat Vietnamese take-out, splattering oyster sauce over the contracts. She wears glossy lipstick, on her neck, a crucifix. Katie sponges my father’s back and lights sandalwood incense at night, burning my nasal cavity. He whispers, “Your wisest counselor is you.” Mother’s sobbing sounds like laughter when she forgets a word. Katie holds her hand, they stare through the silent crowd across the room: an uninvited stranger needs to be fed. -Saechao