With love

Poetry

When They Ask "What Are You?"

I grew up as a split down the middle,

a curtain torn. A house

with sorry cacti and sodden marigolds

flinching whenever someone knocked,

I am a game of who is enough,

a series of half-bitten confections.

Lately, I’ve been opening

windows in slow motion and letting shaojiu flow

in up to my neck.

A boy says he likes 

Asian girls so I guess he only

likes me half as much. I could be 

a shoddy participation trophy for an awards show 

for local expats. With his handful of brown girls

and boxes full of incense and meditation books,

even to a white man

I am not enough. The marigolds on the porch

flinch again and suddenly I am twelve again, 

feeling like my Algebra teacher’s 

mispronunciation of my last name. Wearing a quiet

“thank you, thank you” like a badge when he corrects 

himself. I do not remember the last time my grandmother

cooked a glazed ham, she buys only tamales now.

The last one to feel worthy is a rotten egg! A thousand year

old egg!

If I am not a glazed ham, but a casserole.

If i am not white, but off-white,

If my eyes are not almond enough to be milk,

If I am not telenovelas, but pinatas at birthday parties,

If I am not the weight of badmouthed slurs, 

but the clang of train metal that

connects the country together, 

How do I squash this 

like an over ripe tomato?

I am leaking with apologies like tres leches cake

on my 13th birthday.

When my abuela asks “ya comiste” or 

when people ask if I speak Mandarin,

I fold my courage into new year wonton wrappers

and crush down myself like carne por la empanadas—

apologetic for claiming something i do not fully understand.

How can I exist with a quadruple identity with

no tethers to any post,

with a home that does not feel like a home

and the overladen impulse for floundering?

I bite my lip till its tender,

and I save the rest for later.

Elizabeth Hsieh