Roast duck elegy

— K-Ming Chang

In the window of my grandma’s
             restaurant, a whole roast duck
                          dressed in my clothes. I eat the chives
             from its chest wound, tie it a twine
waist. My grandmother orders me
             from a display of the dead, welds me
                          a crown from cutlery. Tells me the story
             of a soldier eating his legs
all night, bone
             his only light source. In this family,
                          forgetting is famine. A body is having
             no choice but to eat. On the menu,
we misspell chicken fingers
             as children fingers. We eat
                          our gods out of grief, lose teeth
             to new last names. I conflate hunger
with faith, fry my prayers
             in cornmeal & paste. The first summer
                          I waitress, my grandmother warns me
             white people don’t like dark
. The first white man to pay me
             strokes my knee beneath the tablecloth,
                          knocks the pen from my hand to watch
             me pick it up. Says, how do I order
one of you off the menu?

             My grandmother still spells duck
                          like fuck, still beats me for eating
             before my father. Need
is a hierarchy: how
             I’ve only ever seen my mother eat
                          leftovers. On Sundays, she cleaves
             beaks, stuffs severed necks
with psalms. She dices
             my garlic breath, my bigger
                          breast, says a full stomach is the best
             flotation device. When crossing
a sea, leave everything
             that sinks: jewelry, kitchen
                          knives, children. Bring your tongue
but not its language. Name the body
             but not what slaughtered it, my grandmother
                          carries a roast duck to bed on the first night
             she’s a bride. As if hunger is a buffer, as if
the difference between a woman & meat
             is wings. For months, she pretends she isn’t
                          pregnant. She starves herself to shed
             a son & grows three
mouths of teeth. My father born
             five-limbed & fat. Proof the body
                          will live for anyone
                                       but itself. Proof I’m alive
                          because a man did not
             die. Because a woman
was willing to.

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