Jennifer G. Lai


is that cut up fruit is the ultimate Asian 
parent gesture of love. 

there are posts like: 

          TFW your mom cuts fruit 
          when you're up late at night 
          and you see her eating the leftover bits 
          around the core, before putting the nicely 
          cut apple slices in a bowl to bring to you 

          if ur mum doesn’t randomly bring u 
          cut up fruit is she even ur mum 

          one meme in two frames— 
          in the first, a man reads a book, 
          and you can only see the cover: 
          Asian Parents’ Guide to Apologizing 

          in the second, the inside 
          of the book. the response: 
          come eat 

now that I am older, I need 
to get the translation right.
no — there were never any sorrys 
just cold plates of nectarines, 
bright pomelo, ice-raw starfruit, 
fragrant lychee. sweet ya li pears, 
without their papery brown skins, 

at Jing Fong, at Sam Woo, 
at Mei Sum, at Garden, 
the restaurants do this, too. 

tonight, the apron-splattered man 
with grandfather hair, carries a 
chipped plate to the register. 
the server counts the other table’s change, 
but jokes with me: crowded enough for you, 
ah neoi?

          neoi couldn mean girl or woman 
          but it also means daughter. 
          I have spent years making sure. 

he places the oranges on my table. 
they do this for all the customers, 
but oh, what a glitch in the matrix 
tonight. my mother saw me alone 
with my empty bowl and splintered face 
on wednesday, and she is here. 

I know there is a math that measures time, 
but what about a math that accounts 
for logic? How should I explain the strangers 
who will bring me fruit after she is gone? 

it has been 31 years of my mother 
bringing me cut up fruit without 
even saying anything. 

sometimes she would put 
the fruit directly into my mouth. 

tonight, I will eat all of the orange, 
sweet or not. I will go home, 
I will call her. I will buy an apple, 
and cut it for myself. 

all she ever wanted 
was for me to hurry, finish 
before it got brown, no worries 
if she did not get a taste. 


on 171st and Broadway 
asking me if I was Japanese, 
telling me I could slurp a “long noodle” 
pulling up at the sides of his eye 
for an original one-eyed Oriental wink. 

where are you going, pretty girl? 
or some of the time, 
look at me, 
you dumb chink bitch? 
I will tell you this — 
I am walking, but 
I am not going anywhere. 

this happens maybe seven times 
in twenty-nine blocks 
or five times in three, 
not far from where I sleep. 

I want to taste your body— 
baby, I love Chinese food— 
So beautiful— 

just neighbors saying hello, I guess. 
I shuffle away, shoulders sunk low, 
sheepish eyes on scuffed sandals, 
sidewalk and gravel, carefully dodging 
all of the dog shit. 

if only I could force that sourness 
from my churning stomach 
tell it to leap into my closed, 
tight throat to vomit on command— 
and shower this man. 

you so piao liang! 
I wonder where you learned your Mandarin 
to make me stop—stunned, shocked— 
maybe a visit to the library? 
“How to Harass Women In Chinese” 
Beginners, Volume 1? 
your tones are all wrong. 

Jennifer G. Lai is a poet, audio producer, artist, and writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Slate, Angry Asian Man, Pigeon Pages, and elsewhere. In 2020, she was named a finalist in Sundress Publications’ Poetry Broadside Contest. As part of Catapult’s poetry generator with Angel Nafis, she is working on a forthcoming manuscript, Dust We Carry. She lives in Brooklyn. Find her on Twitter @jenniferglai.