Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai


wai-puo shuffled
tiny feet

from the foyer to
the living room

clicked on the tv

steel black hair
into stiff wings

a burning heat

Chicago in August

grandma buttoned her shirt
with arthritic fingers

and removed
her teeth

dropped them
in a glass of water

they bounced

like she did

from one child's home to the next

Jing-Hua in Chicago
Sue-Hua in D.C.
Da Ding in Cincinnati
Wei-Hua in San Francisco
Da-Aie and Da-Jo in Taipei

so far
from that baby girl
that she was in Shanghai

the one who kicked the cloths
off of her bound feet

dove into the marriage bed
of her husband

bore six skinny children
from seven sickly pregnancies

children born to survive
every war


first from
the Japanese

then from
the Communists

exiled to live
in Taiwan

where grandma rolled out
dumpling dough
into thin skinned flaps

cupped each square
in her palm

made every dumpling precious
another flower blooming

its weight anchored
in the center of her hand

she'd smear its pocket
with meat
twist its top closed
and repeat

until it was
enough to feed
six children
one husband
one sister
one brother-in-law

and eventually

wai-puo stuffed bracelets and anklets
over my baby hands and feet

laced my young neck
in red thread and pure gold

wai-puo saved my umbilical cord
and let go of me, the grandchild
that language and migration
would steal from her

it is this woman's skin that covers me

her cataract eyes
that watch me from above