A Vietnamese Grandmother and Her Americanized Granddaughter Meet in the Middle of a Blank Page   

by Isabel Quynh Ryan


My grandmother 

builds a pyramid of gỏi cuốn

by dipping round sheets 

of rice paper one at a time.

Tapioca flour in warm water.


She holds the unfinished poem up:

droplets of a forgotten love 

language collect back 

in the bowl. What scattered

light passes through 


the page guides 

my eyes to her 

pinched fingers. Reminds me 

of clothespins. I spring from knees,  

check on the linen 


hung to dry 

a story away from clouds 

of dust from dieseled motorbikes. 


Before any filling, the rice sheet

must soften. Be impatient & risk 

cracking the face of the moon. 

She says this somehow 

in our silent work. 


In her corner of Saigon 

there are no gardens,

no room for freshness,

unless you transform 

what is old. We have only

leftovers. I plant 




rows of soft cucumber wedges, familiar

slices of pork belly, tawny carrots, thin

chives on a bed of vermicelli. 


Her silver head tosses back

in laughter as I hold my roll

up, an offering. It takes both

hands. Its contents almost burst 

from the silky cocoon. Her own 

modest and intact.


Both taste the same

prefaced by the tang 

of oyster 

sauce & garlic.


Her eyes the color 

of tamarind & burnt sugar

close with each bite. 

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