Chinese Lantern

There was only one place we ever ate Chinese,
Lin’s on Los Feliz,

my grandfather ruling the table
with the same almond chicken, egg foo young,

little saucers of hot mustard. In the ceiling
they’d mounted a Chinese lantern with red tassels,

a kind of three-story castle clinging upside down
to the roof of heaven.

Depending where we sat, my sisters and I could watch lit scenes
in each castle wall—a maiden crossing a footbridge

peach trees in blossom, two birds
on a branch leaning toward each other,

a river tumbling like raw silk through a gorge.
I always wanted to watch the birds, wanted

only the maroon booth in the back, not the ebony chairs
and so did my cousin Deidre who wore plum-colored

lipstick and teased her hair—they’re love doves,
she whispered from the high throne of high school,

ginger and garlic rousing my mouth. The next time
we saw her there, months later, Deidre was sway-backed

and swag-bellied, her eyes sad and defiant at once,
hand pressed to the small of her back, a silver moon

pendant shining between mountains of bosom.
She watched the lovebirds and didn’t say anything.

I can see it now, my mother’s face
twisting a wind that scatters all words,

Deidre’s wet eyes and the birds leaning in,
quiet after the tumult of love.

That night I felt a bird enter and sink down
through me, the bird that is thirst,

the bird that could drink an ocean and not be quenched,
because thirst is both wanting and water

and water doesn’t want to stop,
water wants to let it happen

the way Deidre let it happen, deliberately,
one step after another crossing a bridge,

her eyes glassy with knowledge and so quiet afterwards,
I saw what she’d been looking at all that time,

the wings of two birds going so fast—
a blur of stillness,

water roaring through a gorge
each droplet’s great quiet flight

like when your mother calls out,

her voice dark with suspicion,
what are you doing in there

and you answer nothing