Taffeta Chime (Washing Rice)

Washing the rice,

every day,

preparing for the customary meals.

“It must be clean before you eat,” my hosts advise,


It takes three times at least, they say, for the rice to be unclouded;

一般三次, 到水清了为止。

It will also take time for me to be clear.


I scoop my hand into the pearls of rice

feeling the dryness against my own dry skin.

As it falls into the bowl, the sound changes

from tingling in my ears to whispered hissing

as grain stacks upon grain.

Then I pour the water—

the cold water that never seems to know how to be warm—

the stream makes a pit in the rice

where I first stir my tentative fingers.


with my fingers

swirling the hard grains,

the din of constant whirling outside

commands me to look

out the window.

I watch the eddy of people

rushing down the sidewalk,

some riding bicycles and

e-bikes in the outer lanes,

swerving, honking cars

in and out

the murky road. I listen to the

clatter,horns, and

muffled, immediate Chinese:


In the distance

is the boom of



with the foreground’s

assiduous arrangement. It

makes me want to stay

inside, away

from the bustling crowds.

I don’t want to

go to the store

and spend two hours—


trying to find lemon juice

pushing among the

many chattering people.

I don’t want

the taxi drivers to

yell at me when I don’t

have correct change,

saying 你个六二

and 麻烦.

The rice is sticking to my fingers

and the water in the bowl is very dirty,

practically brown.

I block the rice

and drain the gloom.


pouring water again,

watching the pit form

in the yellow grains,

I begin to swish

the spongy rice.

Resistant—but flexible,

moving with the chilly, rotating water.

My eyes lift to the window,

but I look beyond the streets and buildings

to the craggy mountains,

grey on the horizon.

They remind me of the Smokies,

of home,

of the rolling hills cradling my parents’ house.

I wonder where the rice is from; is it also far from home?

Once, it was living peacefully in a paddy,

possibly on the other side of those far mountains.

The rice was used to its daily routine:

every morning, the warm sun would come,

and though peril might also—birds or swarm—the farmers,

wearing their 草帽,would stoop to rescue the rice from any dangers in the field.

Suddenly, one day, the rice was taken from its home,

brought to a strange place. And now it is here, in my typhoon,

preparing for its penultimate purpose, its climax, its reason for living.

Its entire life has been leading up to this—

not the washing, necessarily,but for its usefulness, 最后。

And though part of me is a small bit sad, if the rice could talk,

I think it would be happy to serve this function,

happy to serve a foreigner. Maybe it would say,


Again, the water in my bowl is not quite clear.

I use my hand to block the rice, carefully

draining the cloudy water into the sink.

One more time, I think;

Almost ready.


the rice has clumped together,

so not as much water is needed this time.

I pour and stir through my fingers,

smelling the slightly earthy scent

as the water meets the rice.

A glimmer from outside makes me squint.

Mirrored sequins on the small river between the street and me

bounce the sunlight on its ripples

as it drifts silently to its destination.

Oblivious to the commotion and the occasional bits of litter

caught within its tide,

the river continues on, washing away the disarray.

Enthralled by the river’s gentle amble

I wonder if it is somehow of a foreign time dimension?

Content with its own pace;

not from here,

yet fitting here.

It seems to be the essence of peace.

Going with the flow.

I see the water is clear now.

Flicking the last few sticky grains from my fingers,

placing the bowl inside the steamer.

It’s time for the newly clean rice to serve its purpose:


It is also time for my purpose.

Taking it all in,

pushing through the chaos,

dreaming of the mountains,

finding clarity,


washing the rice.

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