my mother makes a nemesis out of every dog
and so, by extension, also the white neighbor
who at least once a month, while walking her dog
will yell to my strolling mother (from the opposite side of the street)
something like how could you be so scared of such a good girl.
what gets my mother most about dogs is the panting, language
she’s certain means hunger, ravenous threat. she prides herself as an expert;
back home in Beijing she, unlike a dog, had never been called a good girl
just a hungry one gorging herself on cabbage and mantou from the canteen.
all the neighbor had ever wanted to know about “back home” though
was the dog-eating festival she read about on the news. how could you
do that to such lovely, beautiful creatures (the you being not a universal you
but maybe a universal Chinese you). my mother answered you can eat
anything when you’re hungry; just think about any one of those shipwrecks
where the sailors ended up eating each other. once, my mother told the story
of how a dog chased her down because it smelled the food she was bringing
back for my uncle and her, how she threw half their dinner along the Beijing streets hoping
the dog would stop. that night, we went as hungry as dogs she said, admitting a kind
of reluctant kinship. but did it get you I asked. she paused.
thought about it. I guess it must have. dear neighbor, know this: my mother
barely weighed over one hundred pounds for decades since she got here,
her skinny arms washing dishes and cleaning tables but never allowed
to lift the plate to taste the food. dear neighbor, know this:
my mother’s hunger followed her from one nation to the next
like a snarling dog. there was nothing lovely, nor beautiful, about it.