From Noise from the Laundry, published by Talonbooks in 2008.
Uncle Dong Fei is 104, fragile in winter. He has it standing still, those shakes in his bleached red-gnarled, soaked-to-the-bone son of a laundryman’s hands— a committed Christian whose YMCA-sponsored wife back in 1920 was the talk of Chinatown— and I ask him how old he is, really, and he just laughs, waters the African violets in his room and lets me feed him congee with oong-goo and mook-ngee. My father brings him a plastic cream cheese container, full of tofu jello, home-made au-foo fa. “Mm heck-uk, can’t eat so much,” Uncle Dong Fei protests, waving those thickened calluses and bleached nails. He still starches his own collars, irons and presses his 6 shirts and 4 pants on visiting days when we can watch him. His eyes brighten when the nurse brings in the iron and ironing board. Look, listen, and learn, my father seems to indicate, by the way he leans forward. Uncle Dong Fei takes a giant gulp of peppermint water and spews the finest mist cloud from his lips. A rainbow leaps up and leaves its arc. He begins ironing as the droplets fall on his sleeve, his chest pockets, the detail around each cuff button. His early shakes are stilled and purposeful, the hot iron’s prow glides over a white sea, looking for refuge, unwrinkling vastness as it goes along, and his ship never stops curving in spite of itself, and I think of rescue within rescue because there must be a point to this, and Uncle Dong Fei, Uncle Dong Fei who just keeps going.