Gruel (粥, โจ๊ก, 죽, かゆ, கஞ்சி, জাউ)

Photos and Text by Jasper Lo

The fifth poem in the collection To Go To Macau. See the first one here.

To Go To Macau is a collection of poetry. You can categorize it in both genres of cookbook and memoir, your typical Good Morning America grandmother combo. This collection attempts to answer opposing questions two SIPA students have asked me: by a Chinese student during orientation, "But you're not really Chinese right?" and by an American student at a SIPA happy hour, "You were born here? Are you American?" Within these two questions, I explore themes of diaspora, violence, masculinity, race, and migration. 

The menu (translator):

Gruel (粥, โจ๊ก, 죽, かゆ, கஞ்சி, জাউ)

We examine this man in a country lost.
Who’s motives even today, remain unclear.
Why does a man with such promise
choose a life so far, trading his vista
for a mutilated world?

Around her hair,
                            she wore a yellow ribbon—

Yet every day, he longed for reconnection which,
we suppose, was possible. Perhaps the existential‐malaise
stemmed from a spirit of rebellion;
a runaway search for new roots.

                                                         she wore it for her soldier—

But here, are only ghastly reincarnations of his exiled home.
Here, where the world burns, we must suppose that he finds sanctuary,
discovering the sentimental parity
of desolation in his soul.

                                                                               who was far, far away.
So what drives a man to eat
powdered eggs,
boiled in a bag?
Why must he insist on eating his sausage
and bag‐eggs in a cup, drowned in grits?

Perhaps because even in the desert,
dew forms on winter mornings. And when this man
steps out of the mobile kitchen, gripping two cups
of what can almost pass for congee;
he must smell the greasy relief
of the 茶餐廳, he touches
the tall glass bottles of Vitasoy: the moisture.

He’s sitting on a foldout stool,
plucking individual strands of hair
that pepper his chin. He stares at the circulating fan,
dust accumulating on humidity accumulating on dust,
and wonders about the blade
that circles in perpetuum.

And as he leans
against twisted metal, he watches:

the steam rise from the kitchen,
the steam rise from his cup.

When he finishes, he stacks his cups
and breathes deeply, exhaling as his rifle
presses a deeper bruise into his hip.

Listening to the double drag tap
of his gear in‐step,
he imagines the metal clanging
of his sling to his rifle;
a spatula and hoak
scraping breakfast off a fiery wok.