Dim Sum is Mandarin for Happy Heart
Garlic, lemon grass, nutmeg and cloves.
As if from a censer scent the vacant alleyway beyond
As the vent fan high on the back rumbles.
Careful as kittens on the grease-slicked floor within,
Dumpling makers mince ghostly through the steam
Dish dogs, hands damp within their lemon yellow gloves,
Clatter dishes into the drying rack.
The fry cook from Beijing plunges a wire basket
Of breaded pork into the smoking Fryolater.
Lard bubbles, snarls, spits.
Damp hair protruding beneath his toque
Face shining damp, gold chain around his neck
White shirt an abstract canvas streaked sorrel and roseatte.
These are the priests of Jade Garden Dim Sum.
II. Stir Fry Cook.
In the upright cooler cardboard crates
of Tsingtao beer, bottles green as malachite,
tinkle as the cooler hums its one note song.
Windows mist as he swings the door wide,
retrieves a hollowed chicken, naked, pale,
from between boxed sausage, red and sweet
and acorn colored tofu slabs.
Face stolid, he flops the bird upon the butcher block.
Like the woodsman’s axe, his gleaming cleaver glok-glok-gloks
Upon the worn wood, parts tossed into the wok,
slivered onions, peppers, celery, water chestnuts
He stirs the seething mix till fragrant onions
transmit revelation’s light.
III. Carver of Bitter Melon
Shoulders slumped, back humped, stick figure thin,
warming in his corner near the stove
cutting board with bowl and bitter melon perched on his knees.
seat a slatted wooden cabbage crate.
In muffled consonants and sing-song phrases of a homeland lost
the stir fry cook from Taipei cries, “Hurry up, Old Man,”
Face wrinkled as his bitter melon he carves
the old man, not looking up,
knobby hands deft as a sculptor’s
knife blade honed into a thin ellipse,
chops quicker; melon slices ping
into his bowl of steel.
IV. The Altar of the Kitchen God
On a small shelf above where Moloch with eight gas-flamed eyes hisses
there is a red bamboo bowl, sweet offerings for Tsao Wang,
pictured regal in embroidered robes on the wooden plaque behind.
“Bless the stove to make good food,” plead the ideograms
“that satisfied customers are happy and return.”
For the ancient carver of bitter melon
for the fry cook of damp and shining face
for flour dusted dumpling maker
for dish dogs damp from their labors
this is their altar of their devotions,
twelve hours of every day that comes.