Poetry & Writing

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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.

                                                                                           Priscilla Lee

Uncle Lealand, Grandma, Uncle Gary, Dad, Grandpa, and Auntie Claire.

My family in the late 50's.
Uncle Gary, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Lealand, and Auntie Claire.

My family in the early 1960's
Dad, Auntie Claire, Uncle Lealand, Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Gary

Lee Family 2011: Dad, Mom, Uncle Lealand, Auntie Joyce, Uncle Tom, Auntie Claire, Uncle Gary, and Auntie Priscilla.