• Poetry

Karen Zheng - Tangerine, 热 Hot


Waipo presents a peeled tangerine

asks if I want it--yao ma?--

in the gentlest sigh. I’m afraid to break

the surface of the now-naked fruit,

gentle crimson, clinging

with white skin. It waits for me.

I nod and split it in half

to reveal seeds, waiting to pass on their beauty.

Waipo tells me to slow down,

but I choke and swallow a seed.

Bitter sweetness floats lightly

in my stomach, holding heavy centuries

of history, etched with ridges each ancestor

carved onto its core, waiting to blossom

decades later,

bearing the same sweet fruit.

I give the other half to Waipo,

but she removes the seeds

before popping the whole thing in her mouth,

leaving her, seedless,

and me, growing a tangerine tree

for my granddaughter.

热* Hot.

Mother asks if you like the soup. Xi bu xi huan?

Flatly, you answer her. No.And turn to me,

it’s too salty, with no hint of a whisper.

Tai xian leI spoke for you, the proper way

Mother taught me. To flatten my tongue enough

so that she would understand my words.

Somewhere along the way, I think I forgot to teach you

the way our family speaks, or did you lose it

on your way to school one day? Trade it for another,

better, cooler way?

When you tried to make friends?

When you laughed at father’s broken tongue?

Do you remember your first word?

Re. Uttered painfully in bed when you had a fever.

Too hot. You didn’t ask for mother or father

or me. Just for it to be a little bit cooler.

Now you say hot, but mother will not answer your hot,

not really knowing what you mean. Re is what mother knows,

so she will run to turn on the AC

for you

*Chinese for “hot”

Karen is a first-generation, Chinese-American, queer first-year student at Dartmouth College majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Her hobbies include reading, writing, dancing, modeling, and the occasional TV-watching. She hopes to publish a book of poetry.


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