The mother finds her own wild, lost beginnings deep within the body of her daughter

 after Jacqueline Rose / after Chen Chen

she fed me 
clothed me
kept me
safe albeit
in excess
five layers
in spite of 
subtropical 
winter heat
so much to
eat I needed
digestive pills
to ward off
the stomach’s 
sharp protest
how not to
utter the un- 
grateful thing: 
that I am 
irrevocably
her object

that the
poet who 
wrote this
saved my life: 
Sometimes, 
parents &
children
become
the most
common of 
strangers 
Eventually,
a street 
appears
where they 
can meet 
again

How I
wished
that street
would appear
I kept trying
to make her 
proud of my 
acumen for 
language
these words
have not
been for
nothing
I wrote
to find
the street 
where we
might meet
again & now
there is relief
guilt or blame
but they are 
nearly always 
misplaced
you are born 
into the slip-
stream of
your mother’s 
unconscious

if someone
had told her
that the last 
thing a young 
mother needs
is false decency
courage & cheer 

she might not 
have hurt us
both but what
to do with 
remorse &
love that comes 
unbidden like a 
generous rain
how to accept
her care after
the storm is there
a point at which
the mother is 
redeemed the
child forgiven
can the origin
story be re-told
transfigured into
the version where
the garden is always 
paradise & no one 
need ever fall
out of grace

Related Poems

I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party

In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay.

In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time,

you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him

about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be
enjoyable. Please RSVP.

They RSVP. They come.
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend

the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going?

I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair

of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars
is watching from the outside.

My boyfriend responds in his chipper way.
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting,

isn’t it? My mother smiles her best
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend

Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing
a Little Better Smile.

Everyone eats soup.
Then, my mother turns

to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like

this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling
on the string that makes my cardboard mother

more motherly, except she is
not cardboard, she is

already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting
for my answer.

While my father opens up
a Boston Globe, when the invitation

clearly stated: No security
blankets. I’m like the kid

in Home Alone, except the home
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone,

& not the one who needs
to learn, has to—Remind me

what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says
to my mother, as though they have always, easily

talked. As though no one has told him
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets

slasher flick meets psychological
pit he is now co-starring in.

Remind me, he says
to our family.

OBIT [Memory]

Memory—died August 3, 2015.  The
death was not sudden but slowly over a
decade.  I wonder if, when people die,
they  hear  a  bell.   Or  if  they  taste
something sweet, or if they feel a knife
cutting them in half, dragging through
the flesh like sheet cake.  The caretaker
who witnessed my mother’s death quit. 
She holds the memory and images and
now they are gone.  For the rest of her
life, the memories are hers.  She said
my mother couldn’t breathe, then took
her last breath 20 seconds later.  The
way I have imagined a kiss with many
men I have never kissed.  My memory
of  my  mother’s  death  can’t  be  a
memory but is an imagination, each
time the wind blows, leaves unfurl
a little differently.

So Chinese Girl

Anyone who makes tasty food has to be a good person,
            because think of all the love that goes into cooking:
salt and pepper, sprinkle a little extra cheese, and pop open a bottle

            of Syrah, or if we’re eating at my parents’ in Las Vegas,
we’re drinking Tsingtao beer, my father’s favorite, and he adds more
            bamboo shoots and straw mushrooms and baby corn,

and fun fact: When I was a baby, I’d eat only corn and carrot-flavored
            mush, and now, my dad adds more to the Buddha’s Delight,
a vegetarian dish from China, and I think about my aunt

            in Hong Kong, who, once a year, buys fish from restaurants,
only to release them back into the sea—eat tofu,
            save a life—but back to the dinner scene in Vegas,

my mom is making her Cantonese lobster, extra garlic and ginger,
            and I grew up licking lobster shells for their sauce,
I grew up waking up during summer vacations

            to my mother wearing a headband, warding off the grease
from cooking crabs and shrimps, heads intact, and there’s something, just something
            about my parents’ cooking that makes me feel

a little more like a Chinese girl, because I don’t live in Hong Kong,
            and unlike my cousins, my daily stop isn’t Bowring Street Station,
where I could pick up fresh mango cake before it’s sold out,

            or what about chocolate mousse cake in the shape of a bunny
or mini–dome cakes shaped like cows and pigs
            or cakes shaped like watermelons and shikwasa and citrus mikans,

and who wouldn’t want custard egg tarts or hot dogs
            wrapped in sweet bread or sesame balls, washing it all down
with cream soda, and I feel like that little Chinese girl

            in Kowloon again, getting picked up by my grandpa
after preschool, ready to go junk shopping, and I’d come home
            with shrimp crackers and a toy turtle aquarium and a snowman

painting and a dozen roses, and no, I don’t even like flowers anymore,
            but there’s something, just something about thrifting
with my grandpa now at age twenty-eight that makes me feel

            so Chinese Girl, the way he bargains in the stalls,
asking for the best, “How much for that Murakami-era Louis Vuitton belt?”
            or “What about this vintage Armani?”

and it’s like that look he gives me at dim sum, after the sampler
            of shumai and har gow and chicken feet and char siu bao comes,
and he tells me to eat everything, watches me chow down on

            Chinese ravioli, and that face of his freezes in the moment:
“Eat more, eat more, eat more. Are you happy?”
            And oh, Grandpa, I’m so happy I could eat forever.