This time every year,
the trees outside our house
in their spiky wombs.
The sidewalk is littered with them,
green needled backs cracked open
like broken porcupines,
clumps of brown nuts everywhere.
We kick them out of the way
and one of my kids
always falls and yelps
as they land on one of the barbed shells.
And like always,
our sidewalk grows busy
as our Chinese neighbours from blocks away
pace in front of our house,
collecting the nuts,
patiently waiting for more to drop.
I always just assumed
chestnuts were a culinary delicacy
in the Chinese diet,
but as I was waiting for my kids
to get in the car for school,
I asked an old woman
who was weaving a path
back and forth in front of our house.
Her accent was as thick as her laugh
and she told me, excitedly,
as though she had been waiting
all these years for me to ask her,
that chestnuts are so much more than food.
They used to place them in tombs
with the emperors, she explained,
and she once sewed dried ones
into her granddaughter’s wedding dress.
Her voice got louder,
signalling an important part,
as she added that the word for chestnut
is the same as the words
for “favourable” and “son.”
Right then, my own son ran out,
his backpack dangling
and drips of porridge
drying on his shirt.
He said “hello”
and smiled at to the old woman,
who smiled back and laughed,
revealing her few remaining teeth.
But as we drove away,
I saw her shaking her head,
as I would,
if I watched her
make her way gingerly
each morning to her car,
careful not to step
on any bothersome nuggets