By Priscilla Lee
On our dining table, every dish is a dime-store pattern:
blue dandelions, red nasturtiums, the entire stack,
a small legacy won in a 1959 coin toss
by Lealand, the uncle with the long arms
and legs, who pitched penny after penny
at a parking lot carnival until his pockets
were emptied of everything, but lint and luck.
My family wouldn’t buy Emporium bowls
thick like heads of cabbage or soup spoons
holding hand-painted water lilies;
our plates, chipped and resounding,
clatter at every feast. In America,
we acquired what was necessary:
some English to earn a living, cotton
for dull work, enough noodles for a long life.
My father and uncles fled China
with a black leather trunk, four wool sweaters,
and proud photographs of their two-story mansion.
They rented on Mason, Alfred’s Steakhouse clanging
all night below. Great-Uncle’s wife
donated a lazy susan, mini Bora Bora
pitchforks, and wooden bowls, rancid
from salad oil—whatever she couldn’t unload
at her yard sale. Sundays, she invited
her nephews to hang coats, change diapers,
and serve finger sandwiches, told guests,
ignore those farmboys, too stupid to say yes or no.
The boys didn’t tell her about the jars of jade
or the “big house,” its pond
swimming with yolk-eating carp.
They studied calculus and chemistry
and worked after school, eighty-five cents an hour,
pouring coffee at Mee Heung Bakery
and ironing pleats in sweat shops
towards a new life: chicken and fresh fish
every day, wonton noodle soup and television
at midnight, Grace Kelly on weekends. When I get off the boat,
America is a beautiful country, my father says
as he watches Uncle Lealand, the organoleptic specialist, dish up
the leftover black bean lobster for his cats.