Through autumn leaves that lift
and drop like birdless wings,
the Public Garden, my daughter
cartwheels and sings.
Tourists and policemen on horses
tap their feet, clap, toss coins that tumble
through the brisk air like brass and copper
buttons popping off a worn coat.
The attention makes her sing louder.
In this place ablaze with bare shoulders
and midriffs at the first sum of sun
and warmth, will she forget Chinese
operas, their coy heroines? Will she
forget the high-pitched Cantonese,
the hurried drums and gongs
marching warrior and dynastic lore?
What about the two-stringed
ehru’s hungry melody?
Already, my girl blends English
with hand gestures, using puppetry for words
she has no vocabulary for. One day, maybe
we won’t be able to talk at all.
And those rotting teeth, they grow
when she laughs or holds a note, but
what some call cavity, others may call
sweet tooth. But I won’t stop
buying candy that sticks,
disintegrates bone, the way
new language eats the old.
I’ll buy her records
of patriotic songs
performed by the Mickey Mouse Club,
and that Strawberry Shortcake album
on pink vinyl with pictures
of houses made of cupcakes.
By the bagful she digests
berries and Pez, a pill-shaped candy
proffered from another’s mouth.
Donning paper crowns,
she licks tartar sauce
from fish sandwiches,
and like royalty, sure
of another meal, and another,
she tosses both bread and fish.
Sometimes, I think
she’s a burgeoning emperor,
but is she conqueror, or the conquered?
All I know is this: Leaves fall,
and new ones will appear.
She’ll have no trouble
My little chanteuse
will sing and forget
dialogue and dialect,
with new, delectable melodies,
enough to feed the most roaring
appetite, so much there will be
leftovers enough for three
pet lions, three lions answering to the name
of Genghis Khan.