Thanks to xiaolongbao or the memory of them,
I can never become vegetarian.
Each time we discovered a restaurant
claiming to serve them, my parents
hurried to try: would the broth be ensconced
in each pouch without reliance
on thick wrappers, the meat and juice
a commingling of flesh and essence,
emerging as one being and taking
my mother straight back to Jiading,
Shanghai, where her grandparents
and the dumplings began?
Today you can get them in Philadelphia,
Queens, Rockville, et cetera.
Embraced by Asians, hipsters, and Asian hipsters,
xiaolongbao are not endangered
in the West, but in my part of the West,
known as the South, there seemed to exist
only fifty Chinese, most with an engineer
at home, and no apparent ancestors.
I was too young to have seen
that we were both end and beginning,
there on the Chattahoochee, and those endless
Chinese-restaurant dinners would shock us
by ending—long evenings where parents ordered
and kids ate whatever
landed on the lazy Susan, not taking notes
for the day we would have to compose
the meal, so that one day we would resort
to asking Siri, was it hollow-heart
vegetable we loved, or water spinach?
Even where menus have perfect English,
we struggle to recall: fish as finale?
drunken chicken before pork belly?
In my children I see what made it across:
the sharing of everything, willingness
to try the gelatinous and unnamed. I’d like
to name it all, even if I can’t write it,
to capture enough in taste and texture
to almost re-enact the dinners,
right down to the clattering stoneware,
right down to the missing forebears.