But this may be more than the casual student
Will want to know.
Mom’s grinding chilies for me in Modesto.
Red, green, a dash of fresh cilantro,
Fermented shrimp sauce and a pinch of salt
Between her mortar and pestle.
Dabbing a sticky ball of khao nhio
Into the tiny ceramic saucer, I know
She’s a sorceress
In her kitchen
Trying to find a way to say
She loves me, hoping my prodigal tongue
Is still Lao enough
To understand what her broken English cannot convey.
My eyes are cisterns of tears after 30 years.
I should say “mak phet” and grab some cold milk
But with a smile through the pain I stammer
“Saep lai, Mae, delicious, Mom.
Saep lai, hak Mae lai lai.”
“Don’t talk, just eat,” she says between her tears