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A Fine Meal

A fine Chinese meal,
my mother told me,
is made of five flavors,
a blending of elemental portions.

What is sour, she said, if not the flesh of plum?
                  To know sour is to taste green
                  watering across your tongue,
to feel the force
of wood striking your open palm.

How simple, salt, she said,
and how necessary,
married as she is to water.

And there, always, is savory, cavorting
with pungent and spice,
                                                  lover in autumn, waiting,
                                                  gilded under the iridescent harvest moon.

Child, proceed lightly with bitter, she warned.
(Who has not known its pinch?)
Cooling to the heart,
it favors full sun, its joy in fire.

Lastly, two kisses of sweet.            
                                                   Like a warm spell in winter,
                                                   sweet should be used sparingly,
                                                   for too much worries the earth.

Embrace all five, she said.
Repudiate not one.

A fine Irish meal,
my father told me,
is a made thing,

constructed with care,
(like the spire of a skyscraper
or the precision of a cesium beam)

concocted from what is available
(like that shard of blue limestone, jagged in your hand
and those mounds of cool moss, lush underfoot.)

          At the same time,
                                 and with the same intensity,
an inspired thing,
                            divined, he saidó
                                      a happenstance of light thrown
                                                                       by the Spirit
                                                         or a sprite.
                                 Star seltzer effervescing across your tongue,
some nexus of intuition.

Nancy Chen Long

Light into Bodies
University of Tampa Press

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