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Gruel

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Your name is Diana Toy.
And all you may have for breakfast is rice gruel.
You can't spit it back into the cauldron for it would be unfilial.
You can't ask for yam gruel for there is none.
You can't hide it in the corner for it would surely be found,
and then you would be served cold, stale rice gruel.

This is the philosophy of your tong:
you, the child, must learn to understand the universe
through the port-of-entry, your mouth,
to discern bitter from sweet, pungent from bland.
You were told that the infant Buddha once devoured earth
and spewed forth the wisdom of the ages.

Meat or gruel, wine or ghee,
even if it's gruel, even if it's nothing,
that gruel, that nothingness will shine
into the oil of your mother's scrap-iron wok,
into the glare of your father's cleaver,
and dance in your porcelain bowl.

Remember, what they deny you won't hurt you.
What they spare you, you must make shine,
so shine, shine . . .

Marilyn Chin, "Gruel" from The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty.  Copyright © 1994 by Marilyn Chin.  Reprinted with the permission of Milkweed Editions, www.milkweed.org.
Source: The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (Milkweed Editions, 2009)
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Gruel

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