the shards of pottery scatter in your wake, white dust coating your skin,
and you clutch onto your mother’s silk gowns until the fabric crumples.
if your laughter is sweet enough, you elude blame for porcelain vases,
picking petals to place in your mother’s hair as she folds her loose-leaf paper with a poised dexterity.
you taste the pastel & succulent fruits of youth, the lychee glossing over your lips;
dip your yarn slippers into clear brooks—with the water frigid at your toes,
and graze your hands on the peppermint-dotted bark of old dove trees:
for youth is not bitter like grandmother’s tea, not soft like the bamboo spoonfuls of tofu,
but rose-tinted and sugar-spun. you are satisfied with your appearance
as you clasp your hands behind your back and lean over the pond,
stepping onto the stone border with your tiptoes—
you make faces in the water as the fish dart in & out of the ripples,
as if fascinated with a reflection other than what
the pale designs of ceramics or your mother’s vanity show you.
the sun beats down as your mother braids your dry hair,
shaking her head at your pout when you ask to put her pins atop your ear—
and you fan away the summer heat in a clumsy imitation of your mother’s grace.
is there anything more beautiful than a summer’s bloom, remnants of plum bordering your smile?
you think not, because your mother has told you that you should be grateful for the time you have now,
when the world is new in your eyes and the wonders of the earth have not yet been dulled.
you are youthful, bits of white powder under your fingernails still,
so you spin milk candy in your mouth, glaze your teeth with sugar,
and gaze upon your mother’s weary frame—wondering when the sky will sour.
the firecrackers set alight the darkening sky, and you think you can taste smoke on your tongue.
swathed in a cotton coat, clutching a wire-&-cloth stitched-rabbit fan from the street vendor,
you walk alone through festivity.
mother, you write, sitting on the stairs of the train station, happy new year. a breath in—the lanterns illuminate strangers’ faces—a breath out. white fog.
grandmother’s sculpture of string & glass beads, a lamb with tinted red eyes, sleeps in your pocket,
and the row of stamps is all but empty.
red envelope, white envelope, a cup of ramen balanced on your knee & a used train ticket to sichuan,
a night that smells like your mother’s prayer incense;
sichuan peppers sting your mouth and you have the tolerance of any other northern woman—
is this what growing older tastes like?
spiced with the vivacity of heartbreak & longing & regret, the firecrackers that signal another year has passed unremarkably,
when you meet a time that wonder no longer shines in your eyes.
you miss mother & her paper cranes, pressed jasmines, the antonym of the urban orient,
how—with a brush of her fingers, she ties your hair with red ribbons.
your heels crush cigarettes & candy wrappers alike,
and you see only this: disillusionment from the longest summer days,
as you shiver to find warmth in the burning peppers on the roof of your mouth
rather than peppermint bark scratching at your soft skin—
instead of the constant noon peeking through dove branches,
the city is dull, with sparks of artificial flame scattered in the bitter wind.
now, you find flaws in your appearance, when you walk past the storefront windows—
the blemishes you cover with makeup, teeth not as white as porcelain:
beneath midnight in february, it is not the dust of pottery that covers your skin, but the soot of waning youth.
you burn the letter to your mother as if it is joss paper.
a little exploration into my culture that i wanted to do; any resemblance to other works is unintentional. please be kind if you decide to leave feedback—thanks.