Upon Researching Lung Fung, the Much Maligned Local Takeout Joint, I Stumble on the Meaning of My Mother’s Maiden Name

Jennifer Perrine

Driving by that yellowed building,I made only the phoneticconnections to English: the lobesof honeycomb in my chest, threadssprouting their moon-fruit on forestfloors, dead trees. Had I looked closer,I could have seen that even lungis connected by its rhizometo light, as in little weight, liftof a bird's hollow bones. The gaspof fung might have felt less toxicif I'd recalled fewer toadstools,thought instead of the buttons slicedatop my pizza, the wood earsin my mother's mu shu. I might—if she'd still been talking to me,if I'd taken the time to meetthe owners of that whistle-stoprestaurant—have discovered that Fungis a Cantonese variantof Feng, meaning phoenix—or moreprecisely, fabulous Chinesebird. How I want to claim that sensefor the myth that was my mother,her fiery wing, how she burned downevery inch of herself to makea new life in another place,far from family, how I stillturn the dust and grit of her ashupon my tongue. I don't know, though—and won't—what strokes composed the scriptwith which she wrote her character,which tone inflected that singlesyllable. Now I'm left to guesswhether I'm descended from windthat imperceptible hand fitto caress and blast and damage—or offering, body givenup again and again to makeseven children. Or am I kinwith the more common gallop, paceat which she raced from her own birthin the year of the horse, each stridewith her feet in the air, breakneckand broken? This name she once woreis no password, will not unlockmy secret questions. I am leftwith this identity bestowedcareless as hot breath on my neck,as the swift lone sylph that rises,vivid and violet, from the branchbeside my window, where once moreI dash after facts, after truth,where I dig for answers and comeup with just the same old shovelbusted against the same old root.

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photo of Jennifer Perrine

Jennifer Perrine is the author of four award-winning books of poetry: Again, The Body Is No Machine, In the Human Zoo, and No Confession, No Mass. Their recent poems, stories, and essays appear in New Letters, The Seventh Wave Magazine, JuxtaProse, The Rumpus, Buckman Journal, and The Gay & Lesbian Review. Perrine lives in Portland, Oregon, where they co-host the Incite: Queer Writers Read series, teach creative writing to youth and adults, and serve as a diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) consultant. To learn more, visit www.jenniferperrine.org.

cover of New Letters Vol 87

Winter/Spring 2021

Kansas City, Missouri

University of Missouri-Kansas City

Christie Hodgen

Assistant Editor
Ashley Wann

“One of America’s most consistently interesting literary magazines. Both on the air and on the page, New Letters makes a serious contribution to culture across the nation.”
—Alan Cheuse, National Public Radio book critic

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