Shi Pu by Ellen Zhang

My mother’s hands sweep slices

of chives with the nimble sheen of the blade,

knife cleverly kissing the cutting board,

slowly the pungent ginger accent is

replaced with the hot, steamy aroma

of he zi, shaped like dumplings but

fried and smothered in savory sauce.

The shape, she whispers,

is for good fortune, as her palms

fold and form the dough.

Spoon dipping in and out of the filling

that sags into the shells of the he zi,

Her hands breathe synonym for love.


Fragments of memories are the only remains,

searching for something sentimental,

hoping that something will be enough,

dust settling on my lungs before I gaze

at familiarity in the form of a black composition notebook,

simple decisive characters, shi pu— recipes

I skim it only to start pouring over it,

trying to satisfy the constricting in my chest,

examining like the art of ikebana.


Some entries are copied in meticulous letters,

others cut from magazines and diligently pasted,

pictures matched neatly to each one,

cryptic comments line the margins,

as the fluttering of birds dancing upon telephone wires,

ready to take wind and fly with ease,

My hands trace over the strokes in wonder,

“Liang’s favorite,” “Su’s dinner party”

My lips mutter sentimental, yet

my hands dice and slice vegetables.

Already, I can feel the tinge of sweet sauce on my tongue,

before my hands press and push the dough,

filling it up with good fortunate,

before I whiff the redolence of he zi

that take me back to generations past.