Clearing Out Negative Chi

Poetry by | December 30, 2012

Disbelieving the bad luck from this afternoon’s mahjong
my Chinese stepmom clears out negative chi.
Burn them—it’s tradition, she says. Burn
disappointments and bad memories, like
papers long forgotten left to rot in their shelves
that finally deserve their repose. Can’t blame her,
she’s a pack rat born in a Rat year. Should be enough to char
the coal she got from a whole day selling refreshments
outside school. It takes time
clearing those out, she adds, and also letting go.
She throws in pamphlets of some fake healing water
from Lourdes, France,
and Grandpa Cheung’s numerologies
she forgot to burn with his clothes.
Those numbers never came true, she says.
We’re out of paper, so I do some clearing out too:
the failed exams, the abandoned poems,
and such scraps of stories I swore to finish
but didn’t. It helps enough
to produce embers
with enough applied heat
to drive hard noodle into maddened water,
to soften it, to mix the seasoning,
and to feed to three hungry children
(whose father had died)
and a dog about to be put out of his misery.
Sheer luck we still have such dinners.
She thinks it’s easy
asking Grandpa Cheung’s and Father’s
faded photographs for good luck and prosperity.
I’m tempted to offer them some dumplings and incense
to ask them for Chinese noodles with meat toppings,
and the new Eng Bee Ten hopia with tikoy filling. But
I can’t demand too much of dead people.
Maybe I should owe all of them instead
what we have for tonight—instant mami noodles.

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