Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Eating Phở with My Grandpa

Nguyen Phan Que Mai

for my grandfather, killed in 1954 in the Land Reform Movement of North Vietnam

A man knocked at the door of my dream
and poked his mud-smeared face through the layers of mist.
‘‘I am hungry,’’ he said, and proceeded to my table
covered with food I was offering to my ancestors on the occasion of Tét
The smoldering bunch of incense suddenly flared up, its billowing
smoke blurred my eyes so I couldn’t see how the man looked.
‘‘Nobody offers ph to ancestors,’’ he laughed
and slurped down a spoonful of my soup,
to which his head nodded in approval.
As he ate the white strings of noodles and the thin slices of beef,
I wanted to tell him how my mother had taught me
to use instinct to measure the right amount of cinnamon, anise, ginger, and onions,
to cook the soup base,
but invisible fingers forced my mouth to close,
and I saw the steam from the man’s bowl
roll down his face like tears
to clear his skin and my mind of mud
and his face emerged out of the mist so
I could put my fingers to my lips and
touch the name of my grandpa.