PIYP Day 2019: Fiona Tinwei Lam


Ode to Chopsticks

by Fiona Tinwei Lam


Grandfather sets the bowl full of marbles before me.
I pick up the chopsticks and hover, 
then picture my hand as a heron 
with a long, long beak plunging down 
to pluck each orblift it 
through air and held breath
in a tremulous trip toward the saucer.    

Five thousand years of evolution in hand: 
branches honed to stir ancient cauldrons 
become sleek batons of ivory, gold or jade 
adorning an aristocrat’s table. 
With their deft dance and dip,
more adroit than a fork.
Twin acrobats poised
to hoist choice morsels—
crisp shard of duck skin, 
noodle strands, fish cheeks,
single green pea.  

Let your elders lead, he tells me,
Never point your chopsticks at a guest.
Never spear your food like a fisherman.
Don’t tap the side of your bowl like a beggar.
Keep them by the plate when you rest
or across the bowl at meal’s end. But never 
upright like incense burning
in an urn for the dead.   

While he watches, stiff bamboo 
grows nimble.  One by one 
each small glassy planet arcs up
then lands with a clink!
The bowl gleamsempty.
He nods.  


Previously published in The New Quarterly (Fall 2017), winner of the Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest 2017, and forthcoming in Odes & Laments (Caitlin Press, Fall 2019).

Download the League’s 2019 Poem in Your Pocket Day Booklet here.
Download this poem as a postcard, designed by Megan Fildes, here.

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Fiona Tinwei Lam has authored two poetry books and a children’s book.  She edited The Bright Well: Canadian Poems on Facing Cancer, and co-edited Love Me True: Writers on the Ins, Outs, Ups & Downs of Marriage.  She has won The New Quarterly‘s Nick Blatchford prize and was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award.  Her work appears in over thirty anthologies, including The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry: 10th Anniversary Edition and Forcefield: 77 Women Poets of BC. Her poetry videos have screened at festivals locally and internationally.  Her new collection of poems is forthcoming with Caitlin Press in 2019.