[To mark the union Kimi Omi and Carroll Braxton in Oakland,California]
by Frank Chin
To Quan and Omi
by Frank Chin
To Quan and Omi
A brick building used to stand three
stories tall and two blocks long
where groves of colored bamboo now
grow thick enough to hide the ruins
of the rubber plant where the Old
Man used to work.
The Old Man and the Old Woman
managed the Company-owned Eclipse
Hotel next-door, and watched the
empty lot of bamboo stand up like
scared hair. Then they bought the
hotel and the empty lot of bamboo.
The Old Woman looked off of her
pedestal five brick stories high. Her
feet were a long way down to the
flat roof of the only five story tall
brick left standing, for blocks and
blocks all around.
All brick and five stories up. She
kept her feet and set the sights of
her eyes down five stories to the
ground and off into the distance of
city block, after city block of broken
Every block was a broken cement
flower pot. Every pot spilled over
leaves of grass, flowers and weeds.
An occasional seedling sprouted from
a discarded pit. A date palm. An
avocado. A peach. She knew them all.
The Old Man built her waist high
tables around the glass skylight, to
plant her garden. She fingered and
handled every seed, every root, of
every herb, every tomato, every
eggplant, and, her pride and joy,
every tree in her grove of living
bonsai. Miniature trees, fingered,
and groomed into the memorable
characters of history.
Her hands had coaxed a cutting
taken from an oak on Steuben
Street into a mass of knots that
bulged like the muscles of the
Muscleman for Good. A furry
cypress Bonsai grown from a cutting
taken from one the trees that used
to line Washington Street, she hand
twisted and tied to lean as if bent by
a wind that tore with the whiz of
arrows over the head of the
Drummer Girl. Her eyes look from
the high ground on the enemy down
below. What she sees she beats to
her lover, on a drum. She bends but
THE BIG WINTERMELON
A pear, an apricot, a peach, a couple
of different apples from seedlings
found growing in empty lots, and
seeds, pits and cores thrown from
stray cars. She knew them all.
Now and then she went out to search
from block to block for the long dark
green leaves of mustard greens, the
rippled yellow green leaves of
dandelion greens. She found a
It grew large over the summer.
She cut it loose in the fall. The
Wintermelon was too large to get
her arms around. She put the melon
under her loose gown and tied the
apron to hold the melon against her
belly. She was built to carry babies.
But the Old Woman and the Old Man
grew old without having a baby. Not
one. She carried the melon home
singing like a mother.
The Wintermelon was larger than
her largest pot. She wanted a pot
large enough to put the melon into,
to soup for an hour, and large enough
to remove her Wintermelon as whole
as it went in.
She and Old Man ordered a pot from
the blacksmith a mile’s walk past the
blocks of sidewalks become
flowerpots sprouting tall weeds and
The blacksmith delivered the pot, on
his pride and joy, a wheelbarrow,
with an inflatable tire, and a brake
on its one wheel.
“A brake!” the Old Man says. “Wow!”
“It’s handy for going downhill.”
“You’re a clever man,” the Old Man
“How do I get the melon in and out
of the pot?” the Old Woman asks.
“I’ve provided a sack to hold the
melon when the two of you put it into
the pot. Add water. Boil. Grasp the
edges of the sack, to pull the melon
out of the pot whole.”
“Ah!” the Old Couple says.
“All the people of the Scar heard I
was making a large pot for a large
“Where did they hear this?”
“From the blacksmith himself, of
course,” the Old Man says. “People go
to the blacksmith for ironwork, tools
“Like us,” the Old Woman says.
“And people like us see he’s at work
on this big iron pot.”
“And we ask the Blacksmith,
‘What’reya workin’ on? ’”
“They are all coming with food,” the
“What kind of food?” the Old
“Pigsfeet in black vinegar. Whiskey
chicken. Partially boiled eggs. Thick
rice soup in chicken broth. Shell the
eggs put them in the soup . . .”
“Good,” the Old Man says. “How
about chicken and pork broth with a
few peanuts . . .”
“Oh, yum. To put inside the
Wintermelon to steam?” the Old
The Wintermelon Festival left happy
memories and became a holiday in
the Scar to celebrate the memory of
the first Wintermelon Festival.
Over time she took the seeds of the
leafy plants she and the old man
liked to eat, and planted them in two
blocks, and palm trees to block the
wind from the sea, across the
In another block, a walk away, on the
rise to the old concrete road into
Tea City she tended pines, cypress,
evergreens grown from cuttings.
They looked like Christmas trees as
tall as a very tall man. They didn’t
really impress with their might, vigor
and height when she took the look
from her roof five stories up.
The life she tended in the blocks all
around the Eclipse Hotel would be
gone, with the Eclipse Hotel sold and
built as something else before the
trees grew to a size that they could
take care of themselves.
The Company was taken to court by
Tea City and forbidden to sell the
waterfront industrial fill, the
Company had filled, compacted, and
built on. Tea City claims dominion
over the land. The Company claims
the right to sell to anyone they want.
They won’t sell to Tea City at Tea
City’s fixed price.
The Old Couple are former
employees of the Company, like the
few people that chose to stay when
the Company left. Then Tea City
wanted the land at its the toes.
The Country, going through an
identity crisis, Tea City and the
Company agreed the employees had
no rights. The Company and Tea City
were on their way to the Country
The Old Couple and the people living
on the Company Scar lived spread
out over blocks and blocks and saw
each other only on market days.
They saw the Old Woman they called
the Tree Lady out picking plants and
taking cuttings. They waited like
bugs for the winner’s oblivious foot
to come stepping down on them a
crunch underfoot on their walk to
money, big money, pretty money.
“But today everything is ok,” she said
as she went out every day but rainy
days, out to her blocks for new trees
to take cuttings from and grow into a
tree, or a bonsai. Other days she
went out to tend the trees, in one lot
or the other. Or tend her garden of
On rainy days she did what she did in
the evenings. She made umbrellas,
children’s furniture, toys, and
trinkets, and kitchen tools, garden
tools, objects and machines that
stretch the imagination of the
bamboo the old man cuts and brings
home from the forest next door.
THE OLD MAN AND BAMBOO
Every day the Old Man went to the
empty lot next door, and cut bamboo
all day, every day, rain or shine till
the last light of sunshine slipped
through a crack in the sky, bounced
down through the fingering of small
leaves at top of the bamboo, down
off the polished shine of swaying
stalks of bamboo to where sunlight
started to rust and darken.
He had just sat down for lunch and
already it was getting dark. He
wanted to be out of the creak and
breaking bones of bamboo before
the darkness began to clot and
He was lost! How could he be lost in
the bamboo forest one block wide
and two blocks long?
A SNOW IN SUMMER
Snow on the ground kept the light
late in the forest of bamboos. Snow
quieted everything down. Where did
the snow come from? He followed
the patches of snow to a light, a glow
promising warmth in the bamboo. The
glow soothed him as he approached.
The air turned cold. His breath
became white puffs that faded as if
imagined. He wasn’t at all terrified.
He was cheerful stepping through
clots of darkness onto the crunch of
odd snow underfoot that caught his
eye with an icy sparkle every step he
He was drawn closer and deeper
among a growth of magnificent blood
red bamboos. He knew he had never
seen these bamboos before. Blood
red stalks as big around as small
boats would have stuck in his
memory. He had a memory for odd
bamboos . Blood red bamboos were
These were the fattest bamboo
stalks he had ever seen. Up they
went, shimmering red and turning
black all the way up the long, very
tall stalks that swayed, and cracked
like masts in changes of the high
air’s weight and movement. He heard
the rubbing of high air as the hum of
happy women above him.