We feed and water what we hope will remain. In S. Qiouyi Lu’s “肉骨茶 (Meat Bone Tea)”, the uninitiated may interpret the tea as delightfully carnivorous: not so. Bak kut teh is pork ribs, simmering in a sauce of complex, fragrant flavours: the tea, oolong, is served at the side. That much you can learn from Wikipedia. What does the poem teach us about the complexity, the simplicity of consuming?
S. Qiouyi Lu’s speaker inventories spices and herbs like celestial bodies. Before their gaze, “Angelica and polygonatum swirl petal–soft as blossoms; / dioscorea bobs and forms the white sands of a riverbank.” There is ceremony to the movement and intermarriage of food here, seasoned by the deft, considered precision with which words are dropped into the edible sea of the poem. One senses reverence in the commingling of particles and entities forming this dish, and laced into every morsel, the anticipation of sharing it. We might easily say that poems about food reveal other, non-dietary appetites. If that holds true, what does the speaker of this poem eat, besides meat bone tea? Of what external and interior forces are their metaphysical diets formed — and who is the beloved, dining with them?
What I love best about this poem is that it’s both a laid table, beckoning, and a mouth, parting for succour. It’s a menu for our senses – each item that makes the meal is vividly detailed – and a place for us to come, to be fed. With the arrival of the friend, the “I” voice grows into “we”: two souls, sitting across from each other, a feast awaiting them. You might picture this repast unfurling in a cloister of the unnamed cosmos, and who could call you wrong? Lift your chopsticks. Inhale the aroma of broth. This, too, heals you.
This is the twenty-sixth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.