Pieces of Politeness

by Joanna Hioe

They say in Asia, it’s best not to speak too outright,
For to do so would be to miss the cues tucked in the rhythm.

In these parts, when we order many dishes, sharing them around a table
we tend to leave the last piece unfinished —
In Japan, this morsel is called the “piece of our politeness”
The piece unforgotten, understated.
It exists as the parenthesis, the space between words that says,
“We do care, but we don’t want to be the first to say so”.

As the meal ends, we sit, watching, the food, each other, time passing —
We leave here a piece of our politeness.
Someone might want it. But we resist, knowing
What is eaten is gone in a minute
What remains is shared by all.
(This is the dance, alternating between preferring what we prefer and
preferring your preference because you prefer it
and we prefer you over ourselves.)

We feel more than we let on; but we hold our tongues,
refusing foolish promises of a future
that we cannot guarantee,
savouring only the certainty of this moment,
this piece of our politeness,
that rests firmly on our tongue.

We part, leaving on the plate the unfinished piece of meat
The memory of a very present absence
(We do care; I do) saying without saying it,
Safely avoiding the need to unsay it.


Pieces of Politeness

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