Finalist: Kate Li

Portrait of Grandmother before Dinner

As tender as any new mother,
Grandmother draws liver and fat
from the raw, gossamer chambers

of a fish belly. She lowers the scaleless
body onto a scallion-bedded plate,
before handing me a knife

to run beneath the wo song ’s1 milky skeins.
Careful not to cut too deep, she warns,
eyeing my brute hands. She’s thinking

of the winter that gutted    
all the vegetable fields,
where even a breath shattered
like glass in her hands,

and how she picked beehives apart
for months afterward—looking
for ruptured sweetness, only to find
meat bees singing psalms
as they worked.

I think Grandmother wanted her own body
like that: buxom yet blunt, no less painless

than an acceptance of her hometown
and its yearly plunge
into winter’s cold maw,
where even the sunlit were lost.

See, Grandmother is still searching
for a way out of herself,
for something blunt
in its own selfishness:

the flat side of a blade,
the sedate opening of a smile,
white and easy like fat.


1A vegetable cultivated primarily in Eastern Asia