More poems and contributor notes in Chinese feature



Timothy Kaiser

Timothy Kaiser

my father-in-law at twenty

when mother-in-law goes to the mainland
for a few days
father-in-law will take off his shirt
unwire the ancestral wok from the ancestral nail
mix salt and steam and cigarette ash into the fried rice
he learned to make in London.

in London when he was twenty
standing by a snowy statue in Trafalgar Square
someone taking black and white snapshots of him
wearing an impressive white woman
in an expensive white hat.

he handsome in a dark suit
speaking dishwasher English yet
the way he holds his cigarette
the way he leans towards her
dismisses the camera the cold
the woman must have understood.

I have seen those pictures
my wife knows where they are hidden
and he once told me when others were in bed
how on the ship from Hong Kong to London
there was more than one fistfight with gwei loh
except when the ship stopped in Egypt
a ceasefire to see the Sphinx
he has lost the photos, he says,
checking his heart
blowing smoke away from me,
too long ago.

for my father-in-law at twenty
the sands of Egypt spicy under his feet
fists bloodied against condescension
stacks of unwashed dishes awaiting his arrival in London
and a mysterious white woman
smiling at him from under an expensive white hat
the riddles of the Sphinx must once have seemed
no more difficult than striking a match
on ice.

To Cool the Fire

My wife tells the story
Of her black sheep aunt
Married young
Left children
Husband holding the rice bowl
For a younger man
Villages were smaller in those days
Losing face the greatest of all mirrors
How could dai gad ze bring shame to a family
Still smouldering from the Rising Sun
Other beatings sealed in the attic?
Those first children live in Sha Tin somewhere
Everyone knows where
No one knows where
Her second marriage ended in divorce
Third marriage to a man who gave her everything
Except health
Dying from bad feng shui
She searched out one last remedy
My wife remembers
As she counts back on her fingers to eight or nine
How Auntie used to cough around the village
Buying up newborn puppies
Their eyes never seeing the horror
Because Chinese doctor say make soup
To cool the fire.

Thailand 4-Day Package

dim sum cart lady
budget package tour from Hong Kong
slides onto her knees in the glass-bottomed boat
flicks off the sun.
startled husband
muttering it being her first time.

only after a tour urchin
taps impatience
desire into her shoulder
does dim sum cart lady slowly rise.
shaken husband
loudly blaming the heat.

Monday night at 7 p.m. they touch down in Hong Kong
where husband wants his dinner served
piping hot
slid under newspaper
after luggage is uncoiled.

Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. dim sum cart lady is back at work
where bossman twirls toothpicks
talks lobster loudly on the phone
tickles more than cash register keys.

as corals of steam rise from their dim sum carts
others on the morning shift gather round
tie their aprons
ask what is Thailand.

cheap silk
foreign exchange they understand.
much harder to explain
should she even try?
are the ripples of hunger
that flicker and sway
in the world beneath
the glass-bottomed boat.