April Li

oxen are the hard workers in the background,
intelligent and reliable,
but never demanding praise.

this is how the traditions go:

    1. make zào táng for the kitchen god ahead of time
      brew the malt candy on the stove
      cook the mixture so it’s sticky
      so it sweetens
      the words, so it seals
      the mouth together from complaints.
    2. clean the house
      to sweep away the bad luck
      to hide the ugliness  the residual
      debris that enters our home
      despite how much we pretend
      it’s not there
      (maybe if we dust and mop enough
      the murky myths will go away)
      put on a good face
      everything is okay—has always been—
      we have it good enough.
    3. hang up the decorations
      the paper-cuttings and banners
      flimsy pieces of paper
      we put on doors and windows
      believe the characters they bear
      are enough to grant us
      prosperity and protection as long as we stay
      within the walls of our home
      within the square footage and the station
      prescribed to us   as long as we don’t seek
      to fly from our nests of bamboo.
    4. honor the ancestors
      dear lǎo yé
      the other day an 84-year-old thai man was killed in san francisco
      a 75-year-old asian man shoved to the ground in oakland
      a 61-year-old filipino slashed across the face in new york
      i wonder if they too taught little feet to walk,
      if they sang old folk songs as lullabies,
      cracked the hard shells of sunflower seeds between their teeth
      and handed over all the soft insides,
      (spent their whole lives swallowing
      their own needs like slices of bitter melon)
      i wonder whether they left behind the empty
      hands of grandchildren who miss
      the lines of their weathered palms the way i miss yours.
    5. bài nián to the elders
      deny the stuffed envelopes    never willingly
      reach out for the bills when first offered
      this is an exercise in good breeding
      in filial piety once a year
      in eviscerating the lǎo wài in us
      prove our roots with the clumsy words in our mouths
      turn away when mom and dad start bowing
      before their phones    an annual display of embarrassing
      emotion in front of pixelated relatives
      smile through the wechat video calls
      tinny voices dissecting our appearances
      from an ocean away    wish
      them xīn nián kuài lè.
    6. gather to fold dumplings
      the order goes as follows:
      the youngest ones mince
      garlic     we learn from a small age how to compress
      how to apply pressure     we wait
      to grow old enough to be useful
      our fathers stand to roll out the skins
      of dough     fingers moving quick so they can keep up
      the women deftly drop filling
      into each wrapper     fold everything together
      with military precision     all the edges
      identical     every bit of inside concealed     mom
      and the church aunties talk
      about their college friends’ daughters     coyly
      compare sat scores     how much
      we can fit into our thin skins.     assume
      our places at the table     generational
      assembly line like a descendant
      of the factories where our grandparents
      worked a couple of lifetimes
      ago.

April Li is a first-year Journalism and English student from Connecticut. She is passionate about diverse books, em dashes, and Costco.