My boss, the head nurse, says she has a collection of Ming Dynasty crockery,
Qing dynasty snuff bottles and a
Shang 代 bronze tripod vase
always filled with fresh pomegranates
looted by her ancestors or
bought at Sotherby’s
for all the tea in China.
“I’m the poor cousin, the others got more
Come for dinner and you’ll see them all.”
I disliked her then, now I dislike her now
But it is Queen Victoria I should 更讨厌
throw rotten eggs
or spray Four bandits on the pedestal upon which
she sits in the park at the end of Great George Street.
‘Looty’ was her Pekinese,
say it in Cantonese ‘北京狗!’
It is my boss, not Victoria, who wants me to eat beef stroganoff and polenta
off my ancestor’s plates.
sniff the potpourri she’s placed
in rhinoceros shell lined bottles
translate the inked poems
about ancient fish
and explain why the toad has red eyes
flared nose and only three legs
For dessert she will make a Pavlova in her new Bosch oven
with fresh cherries, bruised seconds from local farms.
I usually pay to admire stolen goods, encased in glass cabinets,
national treasures and ancient clays I cannot afford to buy.
I’ve seen the Egyptian treasures, excavated
by the men who live in Downtown Abbey
“Your Chinese mouth would not touch these Chinese treasures
had we not salvaged history back to Portsmouth.
Look at what happened to the Temple of Ballashamin
the Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan!”
We have an understanding she and I.
I order pens, paper, ink cartridges and pantry supplies, soaps,
malted milk and chocolate biscuits
for children who attend our geriatric clinic.
I add two extra boxes of tampons
“For the patients of course”
I nod when she says, “People should pay for their health care.”
because she gives me hour long-lunch breaks
and calls me “good boy.”
So I say “will come to dinner.”
I will see if Russian gravy taste better on centuries old porcelain plates
patterned by cobalt and manganese
and ingest the same trace elements as
imperial court nobles who ate 菜 off the
crockery when they were fresh out of the kiln.
But my cousin says that our people were the peasants who woke up early to
harvest grains of rice with our hands,
and we were foreigners to the forbidden city.
I ask him what I should wear to a meal with the descendants
drug dealers who poisoned a nation with opioids
rendered it sick
too yellow and diseased
to walk in leafy green meadows
when they could not cure their addiction to yum cha.
He says, “I will lend you my vest, cut from the uniform of a Song dynasty eunuch.
It does not fit me but it will indeed fit you.”
代 – ‘dai’ – era
更讨厌 – ‘geng tao yen’ – more hate
菜– ‘cai’ – food dishes
*北京狗– ‘Bei Jing Gao’ – Pekinese Dog but Cantonese pronunciation is ‘bah-ging gow’
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