Two Poems by Jill McDonough

Puddle on a city street.

Food Wall

You told us you’d seen a rat there.
No, we insisted, and No,
you must be mistaken,
startled by the fierce
love we feel for the place.  The earnest
mural of the Great Wall, scaled with bricks,
snaking into the shining
open kitchen.  A love
that bestows cleanliness, love out
of reach of rats.

The place
is tiny, small tables bright
with grease, fresh jewel
of someone else’s Hot
And Sour. One night in particular
I biked up the wet pavement,
uphill on Centre, off the bike path
on the Southwest Corridor.
Almost home.  I ordered Bean Curd
And Broccoli In Black Bean Sauce.
The woman who takes my orders
listened, nodding, conjured
characters on a lined green ORDERS pad.
She spoke to three idle chefs: white aprons, white
paper hats.  They rose and moved, one
to the rice, the white and red cartons.
Another to the wide woks on burners,
the stainless ladles, steel urns.  

The closest one prepared to toss tofu
into hot fat, and I stopped him, explained
I like it raw, or maybe steamed, just
tossed with the Broccoli, the Black Bean Sauce.
He looked at me.  Everything was still:
the Bean Curd cool
there in the basket.  I was sure
we understood each other.  The other
men laughed.  The girl shuffled
back, translated.  They were rapt.
Then they turned to me in unison,  a chorus of
Mandarin, Cantonese, and Szechuan assent.
Cheerful, bored, delighted. Streams
of ladled sauce.  The narrow kitchen,
narrow hips of my beloved sauce man,
preparing two tidy, perfect cartons for $5.85.

I bring it home, and it is so good.  We
eat it in the kitchen: pans clean and idle,
empty sink. All evening, again and again,
one of us will raise her shaking head, jade
chopsticks lifted, certain, saying No.  No,
they must have been mistaken.

 

 

I Have Plenty of Time

Coming into school on the shuttle I see the fresh-mown
stripes of bright green and its back on the hill from
the archives to the sparkled harbor, all the fall light left,
and think how can I get there?  Past the construction, bus
lanes, out of the office, into the sun:  I’ll get there. Yesterday
I went to Boston Children’s, a terrific hospital, where we’re
so happy Mojie gets to take her little boy.  Rafe needs a surgery
surgeons say will take all day.  They explain it’s like flying
somewhere; the flight doesn’t take that long, but you have
to get your ticket, get to the airport, TSA, the whole thing.
The interstitial times, the hour it takes to get to the fourteen
hour day, the ways the time with Ada’s work makes each
minute worthwhile.  No time for breakfast, but eight minutes
to sit with a cup of coffee, nestled next to Josey.  My father
made the cups. We’re getting there.  Is it the journey or
the destination? glossy subway ads ask, posters for a cruise
I don’t ever want to take, and anyway, who has the time?
But I can read my friend’s poems on the T in the morning,
hold on to the warm weight of Josey’s arm on my hip.