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Manoa 12.2 (2000) 64-67

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The Shard, the Tissue, an Affair

Andrew Lam

Not that the glass shard had any business with the sole of his foot; nevertheless, it made itself familiar. He teased and squeezed, but it refused his negotiations. Finally, the shard--so small, smaller than the tiniest teardrop --was retrieved, and he, pained still, examined it for a brief moment against the halogen lamp before flicking it out my window.

On my bed he sat, a teary-eyed Shiva, his wounded foot raised in the air, kicking, kicking.

I should have swept carefully. This was no way to welcome a poet. I should have mopped, waxed. Something. Now I watched as he wiped the wound with a tissue paper, and I felt awkward, like a voyeur. But then he looked up and smiled. All is forgiven. Come here, he said.

We had seduced each other over the phone and via modems a year before we met in person. An essay of mine had found its way to his part of the world, and he took the initiative of sending me an e-mail full of compliments. I replied, thanking him for his kind words, discreetly enclosed my number.

He called.

We talked.

Mostly of home, of our tropical Vietnamese childhood. He named for me seasons half-forgotten, our childhood fruits, the fruits eaten in stealth and ecstasy. Remember the green mango? Sweet and sour and crunchy, eaten with salt and red chilli pepper or fish sauce, hidden under students' desks while an old geezer droned on. And the durian, loaves of yellow brain eaten with glee by the entire family after dinner, fingers digging through a split thorny shell the size of a skull. Family brain surgery, that's what it was--a ceremony of shared flesh. And what a smell! Rotting-flesh fragrance, almondine, its pungent aroma remaining for days in your hair, your nostrils, your breath. And the milk apple, green and purple outside, milky white inside, to be eaten after siesta, its cool and smooth texture sliding down your throat like ice. Afterward, washing the milky sap off your lips, scrubbing hard, and seeing how raw they were in the mirror, as if from too much kissing.

I, in turn, recounted for him the flame trees that blossomed in the courtyard [End Page 64] of my elementary school: red and green, glowing to the point of blinding under an unforgiving sun, their black fruits hard shells that we used as swords to duel with because they fit perfectly in a child's palm. I recalled a summer villa veiled in a cloud of red bougainvillea and sitting by the ocean in Nha Trang. The way I slept in the afternoon on the second floor, soundly, insulated in my parents' rhapsodic laughter, which echoed like shattered crystals from room to room (and how I loved the roar of waves that poured in through the tall French windows and that made me dream of tigers). My favorite childhood smells: the sea, of course, with its faint suggestion of kelp and dead fish; ripened rice fields at dusk; my grandmother's eucalyptus ointment for warding off evil winds; the sweetness of sandalwood incense burnt by my pious mother nightly.

On the phone late one autumn evening, I whispered, "Read me a poem." Out on the bay the foghorn wailed mournfully. "A poem, please."

"I don't know," he said. "You were supposed to send a photo, remember?"

"I'm sorry. I'll send one tomorrow. I swear. Poem, please."

"Hmm . . ."



mother burns pages of albums
wedding day, first child, father's
funeral, Tet
quick, she says, hurry, prepare
we'll sail away
down river
to sea . . .
Saigon in April
a season of smoke

I took a chance: Will you come for a visit?

To your city? he asked.

Of course, I said. By the sea. Out my window you can see sailboats every morning. Hear the cable cars go rumbling and clanging by. Feel the sea breeze on your skin, taste its salt . . .

To fall in love is to...