Hungry Ghost Festival

Photo by Klaus Nielsen on
by Lyn Li Che

issue 65

The scrape of ginger and shallots, the thud
of knife against board has woken grandmother
from the dead. She sits at the counter
as I chop garlic and galangal,
leans over to drop earthworms
into my mortar of chilli paste and turmeric.

Perhaps it’s an ache for warmth that has her
raising her hands to the stove as I simmer
coconut milk and curry paste. She presses
her hands to my face as I prepare offerings,
leaves behind streaks of joss on my cheeks.

Bad manners, I scold her, Wait.
I tell her to clean up her trail of graveyard
dirt and wilted flowers, to wash her hands
before she comes to the altar.
When she grins, her teeth are tombstones.

I set out the food and watch her eat:
a small Chinese woman devouring
suckling pig and curry, cramming chicken
and sticky buns down her needle neck.
I pour her a drink and sit down.

What is it like in Hell? A slurp.
How is grandpa? A crunch of tooth against bone.
I have seen this scene before. I too have been seven years
and starving, eating in silence as my loved ones
winced at the clatter of chopsticks, waited to take their turn.
Her face flickers in the glow of candlelight.

When she is finished, she wipes the grease
from her fingers, pushes her chair against the table.
Anything else that you need? She swigs the wine,
stuffs spirit money into her pockets.

When will I see you next? A belch.
I reach to say goodbye but she is already
wet earth and jasmine. She is lemongrass
on the porch, the roots too shallow;
smell of incense coiling in the wind,
and the stars jangling, jangling.