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Thanksgiving Peking Duck

Updated: 5 days ago

i. the duck

on special occasions:

birthdays, holidays, family reunions

my family always eats peking duck

all day we wait

as the smell of succulent fatty crackling skin

breezes merrily through our house

drawing all to the oven, to the hearth, to the center of home

carving the duck is an artisan’s job

a performance art piece, no less

as the whole family gathers around

plates are set, chopsticks aligned in parallel

with a pop and a fizz, drinks are poured

we settle down for a meal that matters

ii. the garnishes

if the duck is the crown

then our garnishes are its jewels

fat lines of fresh emerald jalapeno,

bespeckled with delicate amber seeds

circular white diamonds from the tips of green onions

long triangles of jade cucumber

reminds us that a star is worth nothing without its supporting cast

reminds us that life is better with the kindness we seek

that every gentle nod and smile

every “i’m thinking of you” text

every inside joke

every loving embrace

every bit of wisdom given freely

is another jewel on our crowns

is another garnish completing our meal

iii. the pancake

thin, and still strong

steamed, and still chewy

mildly sweet, and still satisfying

the pancake is the first and last step

in assembling the peking duck

when i was seven,

my mother taught me how to

perfectly measure your sauce

and swirl it onto the pancake with grace and ease

select the best pieces of duck

the right amount of green onion

and deftly carry them to your plate with your chopsticks

to fold first the sides of the pancake

and then the end

encasing everything in the warm security

of a simple pancake

when i was seven,

my mother also taught me how to tie my shoes

how to check out books from the library

how to bravely sled down any hill

how to find the best parking spots in chinatown

but the lesson i remember best

is how to provide comfort to others

warm others

keep my loved ones close,

and together

wrap the perfect bite

and sometimes, today

my pancakes still fall apart

or rip when i overstuff them

or burn my hands with their heat

i’ve got a lot more to learn

and as i reach for another,

i'm learning

iv. the first and second bites

the first bite is usually the worst

it’s just the pancake and some jalapeno

because, as usual, i’ve stuffed the duck too far down

and though i’ve come to expect this disappointment

it never gets better

the second bite is infinitely superior

when your peking duck skills finally pay off

much like how a star will explode

and elements will break apart, combine, create new things

so will the ingredients

i’ve carefully selected

sometimes, though

i get trapped in a series of first bites

and each day is like an empty disappointment

void of real substance

of flavor, spice, texture

sometimes i forget the feeling of second bites

when my work isn’t paying off

when i feel lonely