My childhood smells like incense and fish sauce,
Of bone and star anise simmering in a thick stew on the stove
Full of yesterday’s leftovers
Transformed into something new.
My father was good at this.
With food, he could create new beginnings
From the old and the stale.
He could make good things better
And the broth would dance on my tongue
And make me feel whole when childhood woes cut me down.
But my father had no such skills outside the culinary world
And his past fed on him,
Like a hungry girl in front a bowl of steaming soup,
Until he was devoured by an aching nostalgia
I have only now begun to understand.
My childhood looks like an old house made into a triplex
With three different colored families unfolding underneath the same roof
Who barely knew anything about one another
Except what kinds of smells their suppers gave off in the cloak of evening time
And the music each preferred to let rumble
Through the heater vents and hollow walls.
This is the childhood that comes to me in my dreams
Still now despite all the space in between us —
The black and white house full of smells and sounds and differences;
A front yard full of weeds;
A tree stump thick enough to lie next to each other:
Mom, dad, child under the hot Reno sun;
The sound of cracked vinyl and women singing about womanhood
Through vibrato voices seeping out of open windows and screen doors.
I won’t let my dreams eat me whole.