“my grandmother’s thirteen bowls”
my grandmother’s thirteen bowls had all come from Vietnam,
round pale and dusty
thirteen hollow half-moons that hadn’t been full in years;
her mother’s and father’s swam with dragons and fairies,
while mountains stirred dumpling-shaped clouds for first brother and his wife,
lotuses mingled with cranes for her three older sisters and their husbands,
and fat slices of moon floated on still ink lakes for my grandmother
and the twins, who would never marry
but matched like cups and did the most beautiful calligraphy.
there were fourteen bowls when my grandmother was young,
but when fifth sister died,
(melongitis, third sister had called it,
because fifth sister, who had only known eight moons and a half, was already overripe)
my grandmother’s father smashed her bowl against the courtyard wall
and wept in the same color as the shattered fields and fisherman that skated the doll-sized dish,
his smile cracked beyond repair long before american artillery took care of the rest of him.
half a month before Điện Biên Phủ,
my grandmother arrived in california to meet her husband,
a smith-wallerstein who owned a dixie cup factory in san diego
and had no use for his chink wife’s thirteen chink bowls.
he locked them in the attic, informing her that “you chinese never make nothing worth saving.”
after Sài Gòn fell, my grandmother’s mother and first brother and his sons and
two of her sisters and their husbands were killed in reeducation camps
where they learned to bathe from cups and exactly what wedding bands were worth,
and the letter about it that came from second sister in guam was sent straight to the attic
because it was nothing worth saving.
my grandmother’s thirteen bowls have no use in america,
small fragile and empty
still, every year on Tết, she washes those thirteen lifeless shells, those brittle-boned chopsticks
with the same care she buried her sister, her husband, and her country with,
her fingers passing over those tear-colored rivers and oceans
to the place where things first broke apart,
forever searching for her mother’s soup.