Chinese New Year at the YMCA

We sit, like calligraphy suspended in ink wash paintings,
on flimsy metal folding chairs in the gymnasium.
On the other side of the partition wall,
people shoot hoops, basketballs thump, thump, thump
as a woman in a red dress sings a song in her native tongue about
how the eyes see plum blossoms then another about winter's end.
Within a matter of days, my little brother will be transported
to a prison processing facility where he will be fingerprinted,
photographed, poked and prodded before given a number
in lieu of a name. During the dragon dance, my youngest
daughter squeals then when it is over she cries. According to
Chinese culture, a crying baby is believed to bring bad luck
to the family, so I carry her into the hall and rock her.

Through small, glass windows, I watch a man play an erhu,
a cross between a violin and fiddle with two strings
while my baby squirms in my arms and I think about when
I was a kid. On rainy days when my father couldn't roof
and we weren't in school, we would go to Hyting's
on West Main Street for lunch. We ordered from the specials
and gorged ourselves with complementary steaming tea
and crunchy noodles dipped in sweet and sour sauce.

One of my cousins, said it aloud first, Thank God,
he whispered, your father is already dead;
what your brother did would have killed him.

Now, a group demonstrates Tai Chi. White crane
spreads its wings. Carry the tiger over the mountain.
Snake creeps through the grass. Instead of imagining
the concrete cell my brother will call home,
I think about how after my father's funeral
we went to Hyting's where we shared our favorites:
Mo Shu Pork, Hunan Beef, and Sesame Chicken, just us, me
and my little brother. We sat in silence circling
our zodiac signs on our placemats with chopsticks and watching
the Lionhead Goldfish swim clumsily around the murky aquarium.


Rebecca Schumejda is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Falling Forward, Cadillac Men, Waiting at the Dead End Diner, and Our One-Way Street. She received her MA in Poetics and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Currently she lives in New York's Hudson Valley.