To the man throwing away an extra-large, unsipped cup of bubble tea
in the trash on the corner of Ninth and Second Street:
I wanted to invite you to my mother’s house then,
and have you do the dishes. To feel the ease
of that misunderstood chore, plates licked
empty of rice kernels and oil stains sopped
by vegetables in fortunate digestion.
To drink from the tenth steep of tea,
and twist from the leaves one last
turn of the residue brown. To bite
the rib bare and suck the marrow
back into your own wasting bone.
To have, for dessert, a red watermelon,
and to savor the white of its rind,
its sharp smile bared
against your bloodied teeth.
Gardening by dusk, Ma takes the fish bones
into her ripening wrinkles. Her darling
plants, scorched by the year’s unforgiving
sun, cry out for a young mother’s chest.
The skeleton slick as sand after wavefall.
As she digs around the lost worms, we talk
of those we remember. Seasons ago those
we saw. She sprinkles the bones as prayer.
Counting those who have feared and have fevered.
Through sickness and skin. She waters the thorn
of her rose and turns the crack of the soil.
So what if my mother has forgotten
the word for violence in her language?
Aren’t we, after all, hurting in English?
We’ve left our lives behind before.
What then of death is left to fear? It’s only another time
we can’t go back to. Only a piece of dragonfruit
we can’t ask to unrot. Only an ocean we can’t swim across.
The morning rooster rises before us,
the loose bats lie with us after we’ve gone.
Photograph of Alice Liang courtesy of Alice Liang.