All I’m Saying Is

No one is better at cracking open a steamed lobster

than my dad is     the shell split along all the right lines

The lobster is heavier than it looks     plastic red

and a lemon slice on top     The lobster is

I would imagine     far from home

My dad only ordered it here because I asked him to

I shouldn’t forget my mom and brother     all of us

at a corner table in Maine     by glass and goosebumps

My clam chowder is not really what I had wanted

but my brother suggested it     He’s older and says

lobster lungs are not for eating     ocean pollutants

still trapped inside     But I trust my dad as he puts

the best pieces on the edge of my plate and saves none

for himself     Still     I want to check my phone

I want to see the name I want to see     Perhaps

the lobster had a love back in the Atlantic     Another

lobster of similar upbringing     or maybe     a shy mussel?

Somewhere not here     an electric signal via satellite finds home

A screen glows momentary     that knock-knock buzz

The white ladies nearby keep looking at my dad as he eats

My parents leave every plate clean     and I

can only guess why        My clam chowder

is getting cold     My mom wants to hear about my friends

back at school     I feel bad for the lobster

cooked alive in the pot     Outside the window

a stainless steel sky     the cloudy upwards condensation

forming against the stratosphere     I wait for the slow boiling

and the salt to give my end some flavor     I just want

to relate to something     but the lobster must

have had its own lexicon     for ocean

floor     for always never drowning     for the creature

next door with big strange eyes     The lobster

wasn’t in the right seminars     never learned the words

queer theory     or     feminist methodologies

and whose fault is that?     My mom takes my bowl

finishes my chowder     and wipes her mouth

She is the only one who still talks with me in Chinese

In Chinese I am a household creature     a domestic

vernacular     I only know how to name what I see at home

By home I mean where I don’t get goosebumps

even when the heater breaks     Is the ocean cold

or burning?     I wish the lobster were alive

to tell me     I wish away my secrets     pretend

Chinese is my only tongue     Thus everything I hide

disappears     If I don’t know how to say something

that means it isn’t true     My brother finishes his soup

himself and scrapes the bowl     He asks who I keep texting

I tell all my lies in English     By now            the lobster

has been consumed speechless     I’m told

my dad was once an aerospace engineer     precision

his first language     I want to be a formula

a measurable prediction     For every action

there is an equal and extinguishable consequence

To inherit is to combust     I am a timid explosion

No one teaches girls like me to yell     I want

a hunger mouthwatered into love     I want to want

out loud     but we are in Maine     and no one

is speaking     All I’m saying is     dilute

anything enough and eventually it’ll be water

again     meaning anything can be made smooth

and necessary     My Chinese is the water     I speak it

and make myself mandatory     Outside the window

Maine is the color of an apple harvest

I want to be grocery shopping     to teach myself

how to pick the ripest fruit     as my mom did

when she first came to this country     She’s ready

to go now     having taken napkins for her purse

Wherever we go next     I let all of them decide

like I am a child again     running circles in the kitchen

my mom feeding me apple slices that I let drop to the floor

She bends to pick them up     rinses them at the sink

and     in case they are still dirty     eats them herself

We are walking back to the car to find some new scenery

I trip to keep up     I am always rinsing and making excuses

like     wasn’t it just yesterday I left my dinner plates

shining     my saliva the only evidence of a feast?


Kate Hao is a poet and prose writer, a double Leo, an ex-pianist, a soup enthusiast, a daughter of immigrants. She grew up in northern Virginia and is now living in New York City. @katehao_ on Twitter/Instagram.