Sunday, May 10, 2015

1975: The Year of the Cat

Today is Tet,
the first day
of the lunar calendar.
Every Tet
we eat sugary louts seeds
and glutinous rice cakes.
We wear all new clothes,
even underneath.

Mother warns how we act today
foretells the whole year.

Everyone must smile
no matter how we feel.

No one can sweep,
for why sweep away hope?
No one can splash water,
for why splash away joy?

we all gain one year in age,
no matter the date we were born.
Tet, our New Year's,
doubles as everyone's birthday.

Now I am ten,
learning to embroider circular stitches,
to calculate fractions into percentages,
to nurse my papaya tree to bear many fruits.

But last night I pouted
when Mother insisted
one of my brothers
must rise first
this morning
to bless our house
because only male feet
can bring luck.

An old, angry knot
expanded in my throat.

I decided
to wake before dawn
and tap my big toe
to the tile floor

Not even Mother,
sleeping beside me, knew.

--Thanhha Lai

From Inside Out & Back Again, 2011
The story in verse of her family's migration to America

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