She sits at the kitchen table, surrounded by her dumpling-making fare. That's how I know we're having dumplings for dinner.  There are dumpling skins next to bowls of dumpling filling, over-flowing into cookie sheets filled with rows and circles of perfectly wrapped and stuffed dumplings.  Bao jiaozi.  Sometimes I sit down and play with the skins, smooth circular pieces of soft, thin dough that I peel away from their brothers and sisters and lay out before her, one by one.  I can take my pinkie and dip it into little saucer of water and trace a wet outline of the dumpling skin, so that she can press them together more easily.  I can take the filling, a thick lump of cabbage and pork, and dump a ragged spoonful right in the middle of the skins, waiting for her to push and proddle the mess into a neat little dumpling.  She urges me on, teaching me the fragments of this dinner ritual, and all the while shaping dumplings with her strong fingers without even looking.  But I am the odd one in her family of women, the clumsy one, my fingers prefer to be elsewhere than the kitchen table, where dumplings fly from my hands, broken, and bleed filling into the soup: I have no sense for that origami-art.

Who knows how many dumplings my brother, my father and I have eaten since we have been a family?  Dumplings by the tens of thousands lie in our stomachs, their ghosts flying out of our bodies in the form of gas.  She patiently appears at the kitchen table at regular intervals to stock our lives with more dumplings.  Jiaozi.  My brother and I, in our little games, compete for the honor of having eaten far too many dumplings.  My father devours quietly, stocking his bowl with spices and sauces that make his forehead sweat.  She sits down last, always eating the dumplings that have hardened and cooled, while we are already onto our bowls of dumpling soup.  Jiaozi tang.

When she is old, when her husband stops eating dumplings and her children go on to eat other people's dumplings, she will sit by the sidewalk and fold dumplings out of shadows.  Baohao jiaozi le.

10 April 1993
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Definitions of Chinese words:

Bao jiaozi.  Making dumplings.
Jiaozi.  Dumplings.
Tang.  Soup.
Baohao jiaozi le.  Finished making dumplings.

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If reading this poem made your tummy groan with desire, here's a recipe for dumplings that will make your tummy sing with delight!

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Sylvia Chong (schong@hooked.net)