BY DANIEL LIU
It’s better now that it is uneven. That plot
of homegrown Chinese broccoli and the darling
glass bird, which swayed side-to-side during
the hurricane season. I’m glad there are no
straight lines left. Crookedness, sweetness,
the sugary perfume of inadequacy symmetrical
to the winding path. White string tied
together the makeshift trellis. Because that’s
what I wanted, all this time. Nothing left to ruin.
This is how I answer my mother when she asks
what I’m going to do with my life. I want to
be a wasteland full of wrong choices, cliffs so
irregular I can catch my body in freefall, listening
to the rocks hug the shore below. The taps all
on. The laundry left unthought of like hills on
my bed. It is already August. On Sunday, I
cried through three rooms in the house, left tears
hanging like axes on the hardwood floors, splintering wood.
And I thought that my damage was the brightest
thing about me. And even if it wasn’t all that bright,
it was better than nothing. I entered this world with
my sadness, and I’ll take it when I leave. Yet, even
the lightbulb burns out after a decade—in my
mother’s house, I watch the evening tick by,
the plastic flowers yellowing in their vases,
the towels drying themselves in the sun’s
stubborn cradle. Everyone likes suffering, I think.
At least, they like seeing people learn from it—
good editors like suffering too. But today, we
folded dumpling skins with egg wash, cawed to
the lovebirds in the park, trimmed the grass
out back. I laughed all the way through the
dating game show. And I’m glad everything
is odd and uneven and that the piano is out-of-tune
and the future is a roasted watermelon seed
waiting for us to spit out its shell. Tomorrow,
I will be a garden.
Essay on Fortune-telling
BY DANIEL LIU
Somehow the oil doesn’t leap but settles.
Somehow the heat is left swimming. Like all good exiles,
we open our doors stomach-first. Translate pork blood
into bouquets. Slice whelk into neighborhood rank.
This is how I learn the line that splits is crooked, and that
the red marker is in the future tense. On the stove, language
aflame. That promise on the cutting board, under
the butcher’s knife—swollen and pink. Still breathing.
Still ready to be presented, made presentable, made present.
In our restaurant, my 奶奶 braids a pasture out of her
white hair: peonies in prophesied landscapes all kissing
the dirt, worshiping the country they will die on. Stamped
hands, carmine sigils leading a common path. In her village,
she predicted births: sons, twins, illnesses. How inevitable
life was for her, a long string leading into the mist. Always endless.
She and I gut flounders. Descale each flake of armor until
they can be steamed and sold. I am reminded of the intimacy of
prediction. The long silhouette of a ginkgo tree where there is
but a seed. The maggots, impossibly plump, stretching
along the granite counter, inching for survival, surviving,
because of what is now a forgotten takeout box. She asked
me once if I thought of myself as an American now. I
answered no, to save face. To not speak it into translation,
into growth, into being. Will you be, she answered. Will
you be? In this language, everything came to me in threes,
unevenly, but still I could only answer in symmetrical harvests,
leaving pity daisies on everyone’s nightstands. Somehow
promising what came next, and its history. I write about
cooking because it is formulaic, and I write about my 奶奶
because this ghost is predestined, meaning the hours leave
like flocks of geese. Like the smoke after a bonfire,
after every person has packed their sandals and driven
away. I am thinking always of time now: my wrist plunging
into the flesh of the pig, bright as a doornail.
In the afternoons, she brews tea while taking orders.
After summers, I strip the garden of my failed plants, and
sow new snow peas. Everything in twos. Everything despite
the object of trade. I am in constant exchange. Golden coins
around the drain, hesitating and remembering. Occurring, I suppose.