February 26, 2020

Image Credit: "A Tall Glass of Water" by Enid Martindale via Flickr

When I was a child, my mother told me not to drink water with meals, citing a number of digestion-related health reasons. Years later, I drank water when I could not afford food. Alice Liang's poem reminds me of those years, and of all the history captured in the habits we are taught at home.

—Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Poetry Editor

This House Drinks No Water

Keeps no glasses around for dinner. Mouth full with no familiar language,
I grasp at my throat for drink. Nainai clutches a bowl of bone broth
with unsteady fingers,
             captains it across the table
                          and splatters an ocean of stains      to save me.
Since then I’ve believed heaven is a place underwater.

My naive request causes Yeye to set down his chopsticks, and come out of retirement
             for one more lecture:
             he begins,
                                       fills a stomach meant for food — mid-sentence,
             he severs the head of a shrimp and sucks out its juice with a smack.
                                       the youth,
             he goes on,
                                       have it too easy,
                                       can’t swallow fear
                                       without the wash of water.

Years later, I take my morning pills dry, and call it breakfast.

Sometimes there are bowls for soup, and sometimes just
the dew collected on rice kernels when the steam settles.
In arid lands, the darkling beetle traps droplets of desperate fogs,
saves them on its body for drink.             We take what we can get to heal.

There was the time, on a short visit back to those plastic tiles
Nainai got on her knees to clean. Yeye set the table around a bottle of soda each:
             orange fanta,                  mountain dew,                and cola
sweeter than the ones in the States. They lay unspoken, languid.
In thirst, I unscrew one top too quickly,
and fizzing bubbles
             erase every mark left from the bottoms of bowls,
                          the storied patterns of that old round table.

My own skin still renders something sticky, sparkling
with shame. Maybe, someday, I will rest
buried in the sea, where the moon lies at daybreak,
and find there, absolution.

After dinner, Yeye pours me a cup of hot tea,
nods his hand so slightly,
and we drink and drink.


Alice Liang

Alice Liang is a poet based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been published in Sine Theta, Cherry Tree, Poets Reading the News, and elsewhere. She is currently working on her first poetry manuscript, Beforelife.