Fried Chicken

— Vuong Vu

My family arrived in America
late November, 1979.
Autumn had made way for winter—
every leaf fallen, the sky cloudy
and raining for days.

We were brought to a small house,
in the suburbs of South San Jose,
back then still surrounded by grass fields,
farmland, orchards of apricot and plums.
The cold had turned the grass brown,
farm fields were little more than withered corn
and pumpkin vines, and the orchards
seemed dead to us, acres of them.

In the rundown house, there were blankets,
some clothes, a small lamp
donated by the nearby church.
It had never been so gray for us,
even in that limbo of a refugee camp,
even in moments of hopelessness,
having lost Vietnam as one loses a face, a name,
we still had the comfort of sun and warmth,
of coconut palms by the sea.
But here, the gray rain beating on the windows,
the cold, and those dead trees—
we wrapped ourselves up in blankets,
sat around the lamp and huddled for warmth.
The fourteen of us, my youngest brother,
an infant clinging to my mother.

Three days later, a nun from the nearby church
came and saw us shivering in our blankets,
the small lamp in the center of the room
barely keeping us warm.
The house smelled of mildew,
the cracked walls fell
on the carpet like dandruff.
We hadn’t eaten a thing—
the crying children,
my infant brother chewing
on my mother’s breast.
The nun took my brother and father
to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken.

That meal of fried chicken,
mashed potatoes, and gravy—
which we thought was an overly rich soup,
and ate by the spoonfuls—
that meal for the fourteen of us,
cold and hungry, lost and lonely—
that meal, with wealth of grease, glistening
on our lips, that breaded chicken—
that meal was Heaven

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