I inhale the aroma of fawm,
prepared the way we Hmong prefer:
thin noodles in steaming clear broth
with slices of beef, chicken, and crispy pork
spiced with green onions and cilantro.
I look out the window and I don't see
Kings Canyon Boulevard, nor the Ferris wheel
and carnival lights from the Big Fresno Fair
across the street.
Rather, my senses turn inward
and I remember the first time
I had eaten Fawm Looj Ceeb
at the original Long Cheng Cafe,
a block from General Vang Pao's compound:
It is a special treat from my mother,
for I have come to visit from the relative
peace of the country village
where I have been left with an uncle
to continue my schooling, away
from the artillery shelling
that increasingly interrupts
the daily life of Long Cheng.
Mother and I sit in the Long Cheng Cafe
to avoid the light afternoon shower,
enjoy a bowl of fawm,
and watch the throng crowding the roadway
that wends through roadside shops
and foods stands serving busy housewives,
soldiers, and swaggering Hmong pilots
who have just found the power
and prestige of being able to fly
like gods. Children escape the clutches
of their mothers and chase one another
among gawking American pilots
and military advisors...
Army jeeps splash through the wet, winding road
paved with crushed karst rocks
shining like diamonds in the afternoon sun.