Ho’s father can make the meanest bowl of noodles,
beef on boil for two lovesick days
until every stubborn chunk of it
lets go of their bones and falls
to the good graces of the water.
Y la Mama de Francisco makes tamales
as if corn were lottery tickets.
She picks the gold off the Pasadena summer,
steams it until all the neighbors feel rich,
and for a year I watched Shaquanda raise her voice
so no one could hear her breaking.
She never hugged her children,
but she fried chicken
like she believed in it.
Well my own Irish mother from the heartland,
she whipped bisquick and milk with the best of them
and we ate pancakes sunday mornings,
looked just like the picture.
She had a cake pan, shape like a dome
and every daughter used it at least one birthday,
plopped the top half of a blank barbie in the center, and
my mother worked for hours frosting her into life,
piping each ruffle like small miracles, every color,
and it wasn’t about the princess,
it was the dress.
Halibut, she would switch off, sometimes
fried in the depths of angry oil, sided with tart yellow sauce,
sometimes slow baked, blanketed
in soft mayonnaise, full fat sour cream, a whisper of paprika and
bread crumbs, yes,
I could follow it home.
She has learned, over the years,
to buy white bread, because that’s what the rich people buy,
to buy wheat bread, because that’s what the rich people buy,
to buy all natural organic bunny crackers
but only once, because they taste like cardboard.
And when someone else
made a competing jello dish at Christmas,
we each still ate a serving to be polite.
Though we hailed our mother at home later,
silent pride was our tradition.
I was never my mother’s Korean daughter
just her daughter daughter,
so she steamed minute rice from
an orange box with a white uncle on it,
reached into the freezer some evenings
and pulled a costco bag of vegetables with
STIR FRY scrawled across like a kung fu movie,
like a battle between water chestnuts and snow peas,
and in a different life, my mother may have
high-kicked them into bits between blinks.
But in our family,
she gently sprayed a pan with PAM
fried them over medium heat,
shook only enough soy sauce to barely brown them,
and stirred like any American meal,
except she secretly knew
that this one,
was my favorite.