let me tell you about the carrot cake man.
about the bells ringing in the void deck,
by the playground, you see his head
from the corridor, and you run down,
and he is there.
the carrot cake man would call and you
would run down to greet him. with an egg
from your mother’s kitchen if you wanted an egg
in your meal. sometimes, the police would come and he
would have to grab his things
and run. him, with the long basket balanced
on both ends, bamboo pole stretched long
over his back. running, running, away.
aunty roseline and uncle chiew are coming over tonight.
and they are bringing carrot cake. the home-made kind. the
sweet kind, orange, brown, cream cheese, moist bits.
my father’s disappointment: huh, this is carrot cake ah?
my childhood is filled with saturdays rolling out
of bed to the smell of grease, and egg, and turnip. brown
paper parcels and red rubber bands. graduating,
from the black carrot cake drenched in sweet sauce, to
white carrot cake, all egg and chili. (i am a big girl now)
my father’s act of love: walking to the coffee shop,
a 15-minute walk with the promise of sweat-drenched
t-shirts and maybe even a headache. but also food,
and the joy of waking your children up so they can jostle
with their chopsticks for the crispiest pieces, grease stains
on the living room floor.
when we were younger, we would compare
pot bellies. i always had a little paunch and my mother would joke,
“all inherited from your father”. we’d lie on our backs on
the bed and puff out our bellies. two sloping hills on pale islands,
i would laugh and laugh and laugh.
younger still, i found a playground between his legs.
humid afternoons the perfect lullaby, he would sleep with one
leg bent before him (itself a mountain) and the other propped
up on it (together, a cave). through the cave i would run,
from bed, to belly, and home again.
here it is spring but it is still snowing. the lightest
of snows. but somewhere else my plane is stranded
and i am here. in a house that is not my house, with a family
that is not my family. but there is a father, and a mom,
and a child, and a child.
a child yelling at her mother: you think you’re helping but you’re really not,
i’m stressed enough about it, will you just leave me alone?
a child on the edge of cutting in as his father and i talk
about kurdish film. the father says: you mean there are kurdish filmmakers?
it’s funny because that’s really not how i imagine kurdish people.
maybe the child says dad…, maybe the child lets out
exasperated laughter, maybe he doesn’t. but the father
is smiling so kindly and we laugh, and we laugh, and we laugh.
i am weeks away from leaving for college when my father
says over dinner: they are fair, sometimes
there just aren’t people who are good enough.
men are just better leaders. there was so much anger that night.
days ago, my mother texts: i was thinking aloud with papa
and jie jie that your liberal arts education is not liberal enough.
i thought you want to learn to code? what about hard-core sciences,
like physics? go to MIT summer school! or Columbia! or Stanford!
i tell her i love her but am tired and going to bed.
somewhere else, it is always sticky with heat and there is a house that is
my house, and a family, that is my family. a father, a mom, a child.
i’m sure my father still walks to the coffee shop to buy food as a peace
offering after arguments. i’m sure my sister still rolls
out of bed to the smell of egg, and turnip, and grease. those
brown paper parcels, those red rubber bands.
when i was so small i weighed nearly nothing, i danced
on my father’s feet. the penguin dance. place your feet
on his, hold on tight, and let him do the dancing. that night i was so far
from the penguin dance, but so close to snow. i imagine
penguin feet on thin snow on new york city sidewalks, little
children dancing on the feet of their parents, little penguins
balancing in the night.