The Floral Apron
The woman wore a floral apron around her neck,
that woman from my mother's village
with a sharp cleaver in her hand.
She said, “What shall we cook tonight?
Perhaps these six tiny squid
lined up so perfectly on the block?”
She wiped her hand on the apron,
pierced the blade into the first.
There was no resistance,
no blood, only cartilage
soft as a child's nose. A last
iota of ink made us wince.
Suddenly, the aroma of ginger and scallion fogged our senses,
and we absolved her for that moment's barbarism.
Then, she, an elder of the tribe,
without formal headdress, without elegance,
deigned to teach the younger
about the Asian plight.
And although we have traveled far
we would never forget that primal lesson
—on patience, courage, forbearance,
on how to love squid despite squid,
how to honor the village, the tribe,
that floral apron.
by Marilyn Chin
from The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty
Milweed Editions, 1994