WHAT THE KIDS IN SUBTLE ASIAN TRAITS KNOW
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 and if ur mum doesn’t randomly bring u cut up fruit is she even ur mum and 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, glistening. 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.
TO THE MAN WHO FOLLOWED ME NINE BLOCKS
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—
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.