Lang-Hoan Pham

Rice cake for Tết

It comes to you steaming on a plate,
tight wrapped,
a hospital-cornered cushion of leaves.

First you cut the strings – tied into a loop
so it could be fished out of boiling water.

Fingers inured to heat
you lift off the layers,
no need to be careful anymore.
You can peel them away in long thin strips
that turn stickier, hotter 
until the last leaf
fused onto the mound of glistening rice,
squared, green-tinged and redolent.

Now you can bring down the knife
on pink meat and yellow beans,
release that last steam.
Let rise the colors and aromas
of New Years long gone.

White narcissus trained to bloom at midnight,
their scent mingling with wafts of incense 
on food-laden altars.
Red and gold envelopes crackling
with bank-new lì xì gifts.
The bittersweet taste of sugared lotus seeds
lingering on the tongue.
Hunting for good omens in six-petaled flowers  
among the bright yellow blossoms of mai.
Shuffling ankle-deep 
through alleys strewn with firecracker debris.
The smell of gun powder hanging in the air.

Published in Notes from a Fragile Planet, Léman Poetry Workshop, December 2020.

Lang-Hoan Pham is a writer now living in Switzerland. Her poetry and short stories have been published in anthologies and local literary magazines. She is now completing a first novel.

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