Tram’s Jumbled Kitchen by Sabio Lantz
Tram’s Kitchen is a grimy gem
in a poor part of Pittsburgh,
where a Children’s hospital
was built on cheap land
and now uses cheap help.
And where its physicians train
to pay back loans.
Tram, a Chinese woman’s name,
was nowhere to be seen.
Instead we were served by men
in disheveled clothes and dirty hands
who we hoped had not touched
our delicious safely boiled Pho noodles.
Patchwork religions sloppily covered the walls:
a wilted picture of a white Jesus;
a cross hanging from a stained calendar;
and cheaply framed Buddhist picture
of Chinese guardian lions.
A hodgepodge: like Tram’s Pho soup
and her religion,
the Vietnamese language
is a mix of Austroasiatic,
Chinese, French, and bastardized English.
One of the servers, I imagine,
was probably Tram’s father.
He was missing his left arm
probably due to VietCong shrapnel.
A complicated consequence
of Vietnam’s jumbled history.
After decades in the USA,
The father was still barely able
to speak passable English.
But why should he or Tram care?
For Tram’s hole-in-the-wall Kitchen
is rightfully rated one of the best in Pittsburgh.
Prompt: For Open Mike Night at d’Verse Poets. The real prompt was the coincidental reading of Ted Kooser’s poem about a Vietnamese cafe and my visit the night before to a local Vietnamese restaurant. Ted Kooser has written, “I favor poems that keep the obstacles between you and [the reader] to a minimum.” I favor the same sort, as you can see by my vignette above.
In January by Ted Kooser
Only one cell in the frozen hive of night
is lit, or so it seems to us:
this Vietnamese café, with its oily light,
its odors whose colorful shapes are like flowers.
Laughter and talking, the tick of chopsticks.
Beyond the glass, the wintry city
creaks like an ancient wooden bridge.
A great wind rushes under all of us.
The bigger the window, the more it trembles.