Below the Surface

By Lennie Hay

Daddy and I go underground,
descend steep wooden steps
to the cellar below our restaurant.
He finds respite from the heat of labor
in a quiet hour before the dinner rush.
I tag along.

We sit across from one another on low stools,
heavy metal container between us, full
to the brim with sloshing water and raw potatoes.
We peel. Golden skins fall into the water
while we talk baseball.

He knows all things about this American
game I’m learning.
I try to stump him with my cards,
Mantle, DiMaggio, National League, RBIs,
American League, batting averages.
He doesn’t miss any, lets fly facts and lore
learned with his father in Montana

where Chinese men lived underground,
in Kalispell, Butte, Billings. They shuffled
below the city’s streets from dreams to work,
stayed out of sight, followed the rules,
until they ascended narrow
morning stairs to serve in noodle shops,
laundries, dry goods stores, enterprises
owned by countrymen,
my grandfather and others.

A rabbit warren under America
held men who answered the call
of the gold mountain, labored,
lived lonely, sent money home,
learned this country from underground.

Their sacrifices are not the stories
Daddy tosses across potato water.
He looks beyond—
kitchen above and past below, we
claim a middle ground, talk baseball
in a new world.

Lennie Hay lives in Kentucky and Florida. She is an MFA student in the Spalding University low-residency program. She draws creative energy and inspiration from travel, friendships with other writers, visual artists, reflections on her family’s history, and all types of music. Her poems have been published in Trajectory, Odet, Literary Leo, and BEATS.