19 Mar 2021
The author of this poem hasn’t seen her mother since June 2018. She is always thinking of her, especially when she cooks for her own daughter.
I thought of you as I stripped the ginger, slicing it into fine sticks (they were more like shards, I’m not as careful as you);
and dropped them in the oil.
It splattered in my face but I jerked my head away just in time so I wasn’t hurt.
I remembered your face as I sliced the onions (only half moons, I can’t do those perfect rings like yours) and inhaled deep the scent as they hit the sizzle of my non-stick pan.
You would use an iron wok to do this over a blazing fire.
But I am here, not there.
And so I stand over my flat stove, the hob rings gleaming red hot to touch and watch carefully so they don’t burn.
My daughter comes rushing in full of news.
There’s a dinosaur on TV and she wants to know what it’s called.
I walk out to see a T-Rex in the living room.
“T-Rex”, I say as I turn back to the kitchen;
always there, always waiting for me, the smells clinging to my clothes, my hair, my skin.
Like an unwanted present, a scent I loved when I was 13.
(I can’t stand sunflowers any more.)
It’s getting late and dinner must be made.
“Please stay, Amma,” she says.
But she doesn’t anticipate her hunger.
If not fed she will roar like a monster while I try my best to hold on to my temper.
“No”, I say, sinking. (Of course, of course, of course I would rather be with her and play.)
I think of your face.
Was it lined back then?
Were you tired back then?
Could you cope back then?
I wonder if that’s how you felt every time you said the same to me.
The kitchen smells bitter.
I’ve scorched the onions and singed the ginger.
Dinner is ruined.
“It’ll have to be a takeaway,” I think to myself smiling quite cheerfully as I tip the scalding oil down the sink.
Forgetting to let it cool, I’ve made another mistake.
It gets its revenge on me as it splutters.
A single splash bounces back; but I don’t jerk back in time this time.
And I remember the burns on your arms, the smell of hot oil blistering your tender brown skin when your mind must have been somewhere else while you too stood in your kitchen.
It pleases me.
We are not so different.
AV Kitching is a Malaysian-born writer who has lived in London for more than 20 years.
A reader can't eat her favourite dish
A tale of old recipes and belonging
Honey, toss that yee sang