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Lo Mein


You were still only a child,
I, nineteen, the age of your eldest boy now.
It was the evening of the Marijuana Caper
your eyes first met mine at the China Chalet.
I believe it would have been spring,
early, but days clearly lengthening,
a patch of ice maybe here or there,
pussy willow catkins . . .
We nearly bought it twice that evening,
my father swerving left and right,
Mother, beside him, silent, stiff with fright.
He was mad at something.
Mad, of course, at life, but mad:
only very occasionally, and on this occasion.
They'd dose a man like that these days,
or try. He'd never have stood for it,
nor any of us, who knew the storm he sailed in
and trembled to be on board with him, but still . . .
Your hair was black, or nearly so,
and long for a child's, partway down your back.
Your eyes dark, as well, roving, restless,
then, as now, taking in the busy room,
as you fitfully dug through your pile of lo mein.
We hadn't planned to get him stoned.
Improvisation was a habit in that household.
He insisted we put it in his pipe,
to prove that he was right, getting high
was humbug, a notion fools entertain.
Mother hid in the kitchen, out of sight.
It was a long-ish drive for us of a Sunday,
but not so long as it ordinarily might have been.
His frenzy, that's what would have caught your eye,
the way he went after it, like a dog at a carcass,
scowling over his left shoulder, then his right,
dare a stranger approach to share or take away
the wonton crisps or dumplings, beef
with scallions, shredded pork, whatever floated by—
New Jersey Chinese fare of the day.
It would have thrilled, or frightened, a child
to behold an adult at table quite so wild.
40 years ago, 40 years  . . .
You don't remember all that, do you?
How could you? I'm making it up,
the two of us both there at the same time.
It might easily have been true.
If I made it up it's because it pleases me to.
As you please me, poking through your lo mein,
raising your head nervously to take in the room,
me, and what's doing with the rain.


August Kleinzahler

The Hotel Oneira
Farrar, Straus and Giroux


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