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Poetry

As if we would remember only this—the perfect dust—
How we slaked it, how it cost next to nothing, twenty-five
Cents American, those sweating green twenty-five-milliliter bottles,
Quaffing that nutty flavor, our privileged deprivation,
Loving it more, that entire year, because there was
In a city of ten million no other lager. This is what
Abstinence did for us. We raised our glasses,

Some of us drank tea. My son remembers still:
Gills golding in the tables, under the glass floor,
The entire restaurant transparent as our mugs,
A breathing viscous world, a huge aquarium,
Grandfathers on either side of him, and one of them
Was missing, no language between them, one of them
Slipping into a broken Russian when his English

Failed him, laughing at the thought that a Slavic word
Might help him, the other grandfather jetlagged,
Ten years older than I am now, carrying always
A fork wrapped in a napkin, saying thank you
In the only way he knew, spearing the dumplings,
One hundred kinds, pork, carrot, chicken, shredded
Cucumber, cabbage, chives, all due respect

For the distant, honored guest. My son has described
This moment to me, how it appears in his dreams,
His third birthday, when the world was never whole
But seemed to be. No cracks in those tables, no water
Seeping from the floor, no fish thrashing, not even
The cook asking us to finger against the glass
The execution of our succulent dinners. Four years

Older than her brother, even then my daughter ordered
Nothing dead, begged for the life of the tank and cage.
Now, I remember no sound but the cries
Of a city that aged me, the slow anarchies of wars
I never knew, mundane fires of families burning still.
The missing grandfather sits at the table, whistling
Some Tibetan tune, some Yunnan ditty that always

Gets him killed. My daughter rides the back rack
Of my black Phoenix, my son balances on the bar,
The diesels, motorcycles, flatbed truck-like tricycles
Parting for Moses, admitting us, if only for a moment,
To where we walk on water, raise the glass of the
Unfragmented past, my children, their oldest fathers,
Waving hello, calling from their little eternities still.


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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