There is no Hong Kong Town in America, but the Cantonese try their best.
Back to the ma & pa bake shop, New York’s Chinatown.
Because on someone else’s wedding day,
we can have our own cake and eat it too:
pre-ceremony-coupons from the bride—we’re smelling
sponge cakes: honey-dew-balls and sliced kiwis
cantaloupe-balls and whole strawberries applied
with gelatin glaze, adorning the vanilla cakes—
the taro-cake-of-our-dreams, purple lined
in confetti fashion along the edges,
the mango decorations cut like stars—
Spectacle! Saint Honore Bakery:
don’t let the name make you think it’s Europe—
ma & pa just know how to name their babies,
Napoleons and Portuguese egg tarts.
…And Starbucks Japan reintroduces the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Chocolate Latte and Frappuccino.
A high-end-American-grocery-store disrespects the moon,
hiding Moon-Cake-boxes, away, next to the spinach.
They weren’t a seller, Americans not ready
to drop $60 on a gold-Asian-mystery-box:
four decadent cakes packed with lotus and egg yolk centers,
four decadent cakes that aren’t one-per-family-member—
instead, one-eighth-of-one-cake per family member:
the richness—the decadence that can only be tamed with tea,
lotus sticking to the roofs of mouths—
lotus sticking to the roofs of mouths,
when back in Hong Kong, families sample Häagen-Dazs-ice-cream-moons:
dark and strawberry chocolate for the daring,
or green tea from Starbucks—for the Japanese-obsessed,
when in America, we take our special Chinatown trips for cake.
Birthday in Ithaca
The two Happy Birthday tables rival each other in sake bombing.
“How are you not able to count to three in Japanese,
with all that anime you watch?” the pretty boy in front
pokes fun at the Birthday Girl as his companion tells her
to stop banging the table.
Happy Chinese New Year follows Happy New Year
Circa 2004: the Nordstrom catalog winter edition arrives—
they’ve tried to do a hip Mario-Testino-esque layout,
incorporating all the winter holidays—Chinese New Year
somehow roped in, and the lanky Korean model in Chinatown.
In Cantonese, “What's your sign?” isn’t a pick-up-line,
but a way-of-life, each New Year my father and I drive to Chinatown—
he the tiger, me the snake—as he reads me a fortune
on Year of the Snake, I try for caution, no cockiness—
because, on your own year, you can't have your cake and eat it too.
On Father’s Day, I’m in Singapore, with friend watching film.
Chinatown: Jack’s eyes lit by surprise—shock when Faye’s
shrill tells him who her daughter actually is—
Polanski making this non-romance go downhill into film-noir-soap.
And as we exit the film, with lumps in our throats...
the final car scene—of selfish men getting everything they want,
we exit the screening room, ready to head out
to Singapore’s Chinatown-night-life—my friend’s birthday—
we stop by the ma & pa bake shop in the north,
bantering in Cantonese with the owner who recommends
sesame cookies and a specialty moon cake.
It’s the warmth of Cantonese—of the Cantonese at their vendors,
playing with the Chinese-dragon-marionettes, as my friend
gazes at the lanterns and home decor—all touristy, but it’s the warmth.
This isn’t Chinatown from the movies. It’s Chinatown in Technicolor.
Poetry: Dorothy Chan
Illustration: Elizabeth Mattus
Dorothy Chan is was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, Spillway, and The Great American Poetry Show. In 2012, The Writing Disorder nominated her poem, “Ikebukuro Train Rides” for a Pushcart.