My fingertips swirl grains of rice, coax excess starch

to cloud water, mingle with skin. Mildly waterlogged,

rice swishes out liquid. I try to prevent slippage.


Tipping the bowl, I dam the rim: only a few grains escape

the seal of my palm. Tap water sweeps them downward, into whirlpool

of drain, through channels of subterranean pipeline, starch


circuitously surfacing. I repeat, recall my grandmother’s rice dispenser,

rising to height of three-year old chest, behold cream

and green gohan grainery as Grandma beholds her gohonzon.


I select a number, carefully, from the tiny slot machine. Wait

impatiently as one, two, three, or four cups spill,

the resonance of a tipped rainstick showering my eardrums until


the last plunks signal me to transport

the grains to their ceramic conduit, rinse and ritualize this offering

placed daily by Grandma before gohonzon.


She massages beads of her Juzu as I massage beads of rice:

chanting namu myoho renge kyo,

ignorantly imitating her graceful fingers, lacing


beads like a cat’s cradle, I hum in solidarity

words connoting only a peculiar blend of incense,

cigarette smoke, and Chanel Number 5. This blend I inhale


every time I clutch her pillows, peer into her jewelry box, press my face

to her towels—the only high I need

to retrieve what is no longer her


body, spilling like grains of sand

into a slowly graying river,

current punctuated by roses. Long stems streak water


clean, strip toxins, settle silt. So that every time

I wash rice, my bowl is a paddy,

where my grandmother, hunched in muck,


carries nieces and nephews on her back, knees bearing weight

into and out of mud, the way my fingers massage in

and out of rice, grinding arthritis into joints, stratifying


starch and arsenic, leaving stray grains to linger on my nails

the way leeches linger on her ankles, suctioning their lips

to her veins, strong blue channels that support nimble fingers


as they knit happi coats, fold cranes, choreograph chopsticks, dig

trowel in and out of the damp dirt, pump fluids

beside an oxygen tank,


deep sea pressure pressing her lungs like an iron,

unable to smooth the wrinkles wrought by years of cigarettes,

toxins seeping in and out of each breath as her long fingers clutch


mine, before memory swallows

her into open ocean, trans-Pacific, back to paddies,

rivers, mountainside, where her essence


floods onsens, soaks into pores, emanates

from the softening starches that steep my face in rice steam,

measure breath to gentle murmurings of rice cooker:


the remnants of this ritual I sustain.