We eat Pho on Sunday morning
in my grandmother’s house,
not eggs or bacon or toast –
skinny rice vermicelli noodles in beef broth
with greens sticking to the raw meat,
so thinly sliced, on top of it all.
My mother microwaves my meat for me,
offers me a fork. I decline,
picking out a pair of shiny black chopsticks
like everyone else has, instead --
every Sunday, I am eager to show off
what new chopsticks-skills
I have learned since the last Sunday.
And I am scolded, every Sunday,
for holding my chopsticks wrong,
for moving too many fingers –
I do as my grandmother shows me,
cradling one chopstick at the base of my thumb,
lightly gripping the other with the tips
of my thumb and pointer fingers.
It hurts, leaves red imprints in my hand,
and I wonder if this is punishment
for not being able to speak Vietnamese
as my cousins do.
I am instructed to sit in the family room,
with the plastic on the chairs and on the sofas,
the radio blaring Vietnamese news,
and all the ornate mahogany wood –
dragons and lions carved into the legs of tables,
an elaborate Buddha statue in the corner –
there is one in every room,
tiny shrines with red incense sticks
and bowls of oranges that always smell so sweet.
And in every room, are pennies on the floor:
discarded from pockets and purses
adding to the mystique of my always traditional grandparents.
I always wonder about the coins, but never ask,
supposing them to be part of
some important Buddhist ritual
that I would never understand.
At six I was mesmerized by the uniqueness of the penny
among the similarity of all the rest
At eight the value of the quarter is all I will consider.
But at seven, the shinier the coin the better – they are all
ready to be scooped up and hidden in pockets.
So I go from room to room
looking, counting, but never taking –
because I am instructed never to touch
my grandparents’ things, coins included.
And like an obedient Vietnamese granddaughter
I do what I am told.