HOT POT & OTHER POEMS

BY ARIA MIAO

My cousin and I have grown up in a chaotic household of kooky Chinese artists, actresses and dancers and television hosts who made our home into their stage after they gave up their dreams to raise us. This is the kind of energy I wanted to capture in this short poem collection—a snapshot of a small, loud family that stole moments to celebrate and convalesce while history raged just outside the window. I hope it transports you to a warm and familiar place.

Illustrated by Gagani Dewundara Liyanawaduge


BIRTHDAY CAKE FROM PHILLY


on monday we

congregate in the night air and

orange deck garnished with

lanterns in imitation scandinavian

for birthday cake from philly.


my uncle my cousin and i

we blow out five candles in a

coven of three and then all six sing

in a faulty garage band:

zhu ni sheng ri kuai le.

zhu ni sheng ri kuai le.

a birthday blessing time four.


matcha layers hold

high airs and moldy strawberries

that my

aunt swears to condemnation in the

high courts of wechat;

we pick both off as my

uncle begs mercy and

savor the good sponge beneath.


still hungry for the kill i

battle my cousin for the life of the

last lantern flame

in cream-soured puffs of breath and

saliva specks

till the dragon eye fruits tremble for their skins and we

draw a truce under the gratitude of a

minuscule fire.


huffing for breath we

watch my grandmother

struggle

with a fruit half-pierced; xing zi shou le

she remarks.

the apricots are ripe.


then we tell ghost stories round the snuffed candle wicks

to make each other laugh.


* * *


DRIED DATES IN THE BASEMENT


one date

two date

red date—

no, just red dates.


two plastic bags of

porridge fodder in the drafty basement,

our refuge for days when the

moisture of the corn field state drives us

underground like badger moles.


it began as a

twinkling inside joke, a

golden chance to disgust

the date-hating cousin who

dared me to pull it through.


but quarantine has made me an

adventurous eater.

now one ziplock wanes thin from its

tributes to a hungry deity and as i

isolate each stringy

pith on the roof of my mouth i

figure how long it will be before my aunt spots the difference.


the best things taste stolen.


* * *


INTERRUPTED HOT POT


hot pot is performance art,

a ritual of

togetherness.

i am here

you are here

we tangle our chopsticks in the

same boiling water;

we are family.


on sunday we

gather round the kitchen table,

one side spicy and

one side plain.

my aunt fills the bubbling

beast to overflowing,

anxious to keep us fed—

but she does not eat.

she is at war.


my uncle plays diplomat five feet

away, dangling truce like a

fresh rice cake and

yet she is no gourmand for peace.

so soon they are as

children squabbling over the

last fishball of righteousness—

her dresses, his gadgets—but we laugh because

they are children only, and

hungry children howl.


there is a natural order to hot pot.

first you load your bowl with

all walks of goodies, but there are

always noodles at the end to

sop up your bean curd sauce.

we make an exception today, us three

caught in the middle.


and we leave them there,

hot pot in between.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ARIA MIAO • UNITED STATES

A New Jersey-born girl with an extremely Chinese upbringing, The Red Goji emerged in Aria's brain as she dispensed Asian goodies to her friends in a middle school cafeteria. She later executed that idea during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, motivated largely by loneliness and ennui. During her moments of unproductivity, Aria likes to watch k-dramas, read old books, and make flaky pastries. Currently lives in the U.S.

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