Making Phở – A Poem

She will rise at 5 AM

Finding the ingredients

Laid out on the kitchen counter

Ready for her attention

The bones are gently placed in the pot

The water covers the bones like a flood engulfing islands

The sachet of spices soaks in the stove top hot tub 

Bobbing in circles as it imparts its essential essence

The ginger sizzles with an aromatic burn 

Quickly extinguished as it splashes next to the star anise and daikon radish

The fire is lowered and the waiting begins.

She will watch the sun rise

Remembering your journey

From little boy to grown man

Imagining your journey

From your house to her home.

She will soak the rice noodles when the sun starts to slide

And cut the meat, paper thin

Wincing when the knife gets too close to her fingertips

Two types of onions, chopped, give her an excuse 

To second guess how she has raised you.

Before the moon rises, she will prepare the table

Chopsticks on white napkins

Large bowls filled with 

Softened rice noodles

Raw beef sliced paper thin 

Onions – two kinds.

And when the doorbell rings

And your deep voice reverberates in her womb

She’ll ladle the broth

Steaming with spices

Warmed with ginger

Hearty with marrow

And serve you a bowl

Of her love.

Image credit:

Pisauikan@ Pixabay 

( For the visually challenged

reader, the image shows an

old woman whose face is

deeply lined. There is a faint

smile on her face)

This is a late entry for Sadje’s What Do You See #52. This prompt marks the one year anniversary of Sadje’s What Do You See. Despite the lateness, I wanted to to acknowledge the inspiration Sadje gifts us with her weekly picture prompt. Her observations of “what she saw” over the course of this year are spot on! Thank you, Sadje for stretching our imaginations and sharing our interpretations!

I was also able to include Patrick’s Pic and a Word Challenge #249 – Rise. I’m sure he has a really good excuse for being MIA for month but all that matters is that I’m still on my streak!!

This poem was inspired by my husband’s mom. No, she doesn’t look like the picture of the old Asian woman from Sadje’s prompt. My mother-in-law actually looks quite younger than her almost 70 years on this earth – her skin is smooth, unblemished and her hair retains its thick curls (natural) and black color (bottled). She does wake up at 5 AM to start cooking phở when she knows we will be visiting. It usually takes us 8-10 hours to get to my husband’s hometown and the broth she makes is the first thing we smell when they open the door. Good phở cannot be rushed (believe me, I’ve tried!) and my mother-in-law’s recipe is the best!

My husband is the first of four boys. His brothers are scattered across the United States – we are the second closest to his parents. I remember the first time I visited my husband’s parents in their home – I was really nervous but my mother-in-law made me feel welcomed and promised to share her recipes with me if I married her son. She served phở to us that winter day and ever since then, anytime we would return to my husband’s childhood home, phở is the first meal we would have.

I have often wondered what she thought of the women who came to take her boys far from home. Does she feel replaced? Does she worry if they are taking care of her sons in the same way that she took care of them? Does she enjoy the quiet of the house? Does she miss cleaning up after them? Does she wish they lived closer and visited more often?

I haven’t asked her these questions, but when I think about my own answers to these questions, and think about my kids who aren’t even dating yet being far away from me, my eyes start behaving like I’m chopping onions and I start to think of how I can serve them love in a bowl.

©️ 2020 iido

26 thoughts on “Making Phở – A Poem

  1. Oh, Irma! What a heartwarming tribute to your mother-in-law! So much love you have poured into crafting this verse…I could almost taste the ginger and star anise… heavenly!
    You know when you write about what she thinks of the women who took away her boys far from home, that strikes as something very familiar. In India, moms are the most excited to see their sons married and since arranged marriages are still a norm, they pick someone who they think is the most beautiful and most suitable for their sons. Yet, in a few months or years they start resenting the presence of the daughter-in-law! Mothers can be strange.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Oh yes, motherhood is a very strange vocation. We put all our tine and effort into raising children only to send them away into the unknown world at some arbitrary age! At least that’s how it is in the USA. In the Philippines, children often live at home until they are married and even then, they might live with one set of parents. I’ve read that arranged marriages often become love matches – I wonder if that’s when the resentment starts?

      Liked by 1 person

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  3. A wonderful rich poem, imbued with all the colours, flavours and spices of the dish, which reflects the special nature of the relationship you have with your mom-in-law. My husband is also one of four boys and I was lucky to have also shared something special with his mom. I still miss her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we are lucky that my mother-in-law is healthy despite her bouts with cancer. We haven’t seen them with the pandemic since she is such high risk. She is really a great cook and I’m so glad she shared her recipes with me. Where in the lineup is your husband? Mine is the oldest.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cliff is the third one, and had been the youngest for quite a while until littlest bro came along. We’re quite widely spread across the world with the eldest in New Zealand and us in South Africa; the other two are still in Liverpool, one with a wife from Brazil!
        I was so proud of Emma, my mother-in-law, when she saved up to go, by herself to NZ having never been anywhere beyond the UK before, let alone on a plane to the other side of the world.
        Shame not to be able to visit yours, but it’s the sensible thing to do.

        Liked by 1 person

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  5. such a lovingly kind tribute to your MIL … sounds like she did a wonderful job raising her four sons! And I believe you will do an equally loving job of raising your tribe 🙂

    Once you realise true love is setting them free, not owning them, then your relationship matures and distance will not seem so immense 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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