The lush leaves of the baby squash encircle
the small tomato shoots in my mother’s garden.
She steps around their fragile stems towards
the cucumber blossoms, carefully placing each
foot into the dark earth, and bends into the fragrant
tendrils, coaxing the drooping vines with droplets
of water. I watch her small hands, the lines of her palms
cracked brown from digging in the dewy soil,
fresh from the mornings in our Midwestern town
She ignores me from my perch in the shadows,
tending to the thin, semi-translucent bean stems in
the center of the garden. Her hands held them against
stronger poles to help guide their paths upwards, just like
the way she held me up last night, against her. Letting
my tears fall, accepting my hiccups, because I was unable
to stutter out the reasons why he left me, his promises
thrown away and buried along with my mother’s
bitter-melon seeds, which had just begun to blossom.
THE PEKING RESTAURANT’S CHEF
He’s kept his mechanic’s uniform, John Deere-green
with his name, Phuoc, stitched in with bright yellow
thread, rips near the knees, back-pocket already gone.
In summer afternoons, when his restaurant is slow,
he’ll bike home, ten minutes away. He’ll stay in the garage,
two hours, suited in that uniform, toolbox out. Checking
the oil on his 1967 Corvette, hood up, and his green frame
bent over to check a pipe or wire. Another hour, under
the CRX Honda, trying to fix the power steering. Soon,
mom will call home, another customer, another order.
He will wipe his hands on the dirty rag, bike back, in uniform,
before stripping it off to hang on the coat-rack. He’ll take his
place at the old stool, in front of the cutting board, like late
afternoons before, to support his bad leg, stained apron tied
over his collared shirt and jeans. His hair is more grey than black
now, thirty years of preparing for dinner service, holding
the cleaver for celery stalks and carrots, the only knife he’s
used in this kitchen. He curls his knuckles against the hard body
of a carrot, to prevent cuts, the knife a steady beat against
the cutting board as it slices through to make thin, orange circles.
Later, in the evening, he will use an over-sized ladle, stainless
steel, to pour vegetable oil into the wide mouth of a black wok.
Add chicken, listen to it sizzle, then celery, carrot, soy sauce.
Toss with pepper, red, hot. Let simmer, then serve. Another
latze-jiding, for seven dollars. Nine o’clock will come, and he
will turn the plastic sign to Closed, go home, leaving the green
uniform behind, waiting next to the stained apron on the coat-rack.
MY DAD CHEATED ON MY MOM,
she says, as if it were an answer to a very simple question.
She leans against the wall of her bedroom, a deep maroon,
doesn’t look at me. I stare at the gold knitting needles
that she uses to weave the green yarn around one stick,
loop it around and follow through with the other, trying
to find rhythm with beginner’s hands. I want to know
who told her, her mom or her dad, but she continues,
says her favorite posters are maps – they line the bedroom
walls – and she stops her needlework to point to the oldest one,
with colors that show where each language is spoken.
I’ve decided I’ll move, she says. Her fingers touch Norway, here,
a block of green that spans her pinkie. Her mouth forms
around the unfamiliar sounds. Jeg, du, vi. She laughs at
the lilt of each word, as if singing a conversation.
I’ve been practicing, she says. Can’t you tell? I can’t, but ask if she
considered a place closer to the equator, Brazil, or India.
Why? she says, returns to her knitting, working the needles
through the growing rectangle. She continues, I like the cold.
I know this is a lie. She told me once she’d rather run into
the sun than stay submerged in icy water. She adds, plus,
it’s far away. Her fingers finally find rhythm and we are quiet
as we listen to the ticking of her needles. I look again at her
favorite map, the green block and blue ocean, know we are
close enough for this conversation, but already far apart.
I wonder if she’ll bring her knitting needles.
THE HOUSE ON 4TH STREET
I stand in front of the porch. It still sags
from past guests, faint trails etched through
the paint from sneakers, heels, bicycle wheels.
The door is newly painted, a rich dark brown with
the stained-glass Welcome sign still there from
two years ago, a garage sale find for fifty cents.
The side door slams, someone’s leaving, and I
expect to see the familiar form of my Argentine
lover. Shoulders red from too much sun,
walking to the garden, a lonely dirt pile with
brick walls to keep the rabbits from the sage
leaves we used to pick for morning tea.
But it is a woman, whose hair resembles
the long brown waves of my roommate then,
and I remember the debates in the crowded
kitchen, brown curls sticking to her face
as she stirred boiling pasta. She claimed that
love was not real. Next to her, a black-haired boy,
enveloped in steam from the stove, who was
dicing the tomatoes. He disagreed. Why do people
stay together? he asked. What makes them promise
forever? Movies are dedicated to this shit, Kristi,
don’t tell me it’s not real –
The woman asks if I am lost, as if she knew
I did not belong here anymore, but I shake my head.
I do not tell her that I am lost, lost in memory,
head filled with dance-hall pop from the old boom-box
in the corner of the dining room, the pasta forgotten
as we tried to learn the fox trot. Our limbs twisted.
We stepped off-beat. The Argentine laughed when I fell
onto the sofa next to him, arms out, as if to catch me.
The middle caved in, slid us together, and we watched
the black-haired believer take Kristi’s arms, tap along
on the wooden floor to the ballroom tune, eyes bright,
swaying in time to the rhythm, and with each other.
Amy Tran is a senior majoring in communication – public relations and Chinese with a creative writing minor. She is deeply committed to social justice, and has actively promoted, organized, and created various diversity initiatives and inclusion events on her campus. She intends to work in an office of multicultural programming at an institution of higher-learning. In her spare time, she enjoys the pleasures of being a writer, which includes thinking about but not actually writing.