Washing the rice,
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;
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
muffled, immediate Chinese:
In the distance
is the boom of
with the foreground’s
assiduous arrangement. It
makes me want to stay
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,
The rice is sticking to my fingers
and the water in the bowl is very dirty,
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.
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 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;
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,
washing the rice.