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
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.
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
*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.