My mother in her dress of red Viyella, teetering like a tiny idol
on three-inch lacquered spikes, chignon dressed with little gold-
throated bells that chirped more sweetly than the cricket,
held her small, perfect hands to the torrent pouring from the slots.
Money went like water through our fingers: was dammed
by budgets, released, then abruptly gone at the China Starr,
that grotto, festooned with red and vivid lanterns.
Dark as the inside of a limousine, that saloon was where
our lives, dulled by the copper barons, were cleansed,
where we bade good-bye to the limp and stutter
of bad goods, to the wince of the creaky rocker, to the vast
grandmother dying in its clutch, to the dirty, wrinkled ones
and tens pieced together to cover the week. Hello, we said,
to the beautiful dark starlit bar and the luxury therein:
the runcible spoons with their slippery cargo: the snarled silk
of tinned bean sprout, the wrinkled flame of the dried lily.
Hunched over our beakers of jasmine tea, we let the exotic
rinse over us—impractical and non-negotiable.
Lynn Emanuel, “Chinoiserie” from The Dig. Copyright © 1984, 1992, 1995 by Lynn Emanuel. Reprinted with the permission of the author and the University of Illinois Press.
Source: The Dig
(University of Illinois Press, 1992)