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.