TAIPING by ANA CHEN

cockroach:
viscera stew, eyes puddling
in the milk your baby cousin vomited yesterday.
by sunrise the survivors will scuttle away from the
wallowing zongzi, rice gummed golden to your
tongue, soybeans kissing
the melted flesh of chickens your popo killed herself, hands over
hinged neck. your throat curdling as the feathers
tattoo the freckled refrigerator; popo then opens the door and
passes you yogurt, the chinese kind, childhood honeyed
in the red-roofed bottles sagging in the
trash can. in there too is gonggong’s last lighter. his sunbaked fingers
trembled yesterday as the fluid gasped to life between his lips. sometimes you think
the smoke bleached his hair so white, tufts he parts somewhat abashedly as you try
to take a selfie with him – he pushes your phone away, sighs a tobacco cloud:
can’t you see? i’m no longer handsome.
and the mosquitos, teeth chiseling your forearm: these you fight with an acid
vengeance, an american spray that chews your eyes. when your cousin comes she laughs
at the mountain ranges you call welts; she climbs inside your fortress of mosquito netting and
asks you to paint her toes. you do them pomegranate red: a red mama
was hesitant to buy because it’d make you look too mature; for this reason too
she refuses to buy you deep v-necks because even though they flatter your
collarbones because your uncles do not want
to see your bra from across the mahjong table, where you are
the only girl; back home you thought you were adept at the game but here your family’s fingers
thunder porcelain across the table, tiles hurled gunfire, brows furrowed, cantonese spat
from whipped white lips. your fifth uncle lends you
one-hundred ren, jokes that you need to pay your college tuition; you grin
in embarrassment as your gonggong sweeps your last ten ren away: his knuckles flick
your bills into his pocket, hurl the dice at you in the same moment. in this way you
are reminded of eating fish: flesh into one cheek, bones
out the other. you have never mastered this, pick out the cartilage
with your chopsticks instead. popo always sighs at you over
the seared golden scales of the fish she fought for that morning,
scallion green confetti. what taiping child can’t eat fish?
and the dragonfruit: as a child you would swallow it by the
handful, squatting in golden dust, ogling the flatfish your great-uncle
caught a day ago, its two funhouse eyes leering up at you. the dragonfruit
bleeds purple down your sleeve, sweet flesh like the harvest
of a hunt. and you imagine you have slain a dragon, victory in the snap
of pearly seeds. when you tell your cousins this they
stare up at you and you remember
your younger cousin loves role-playing as a kidnapped princess; you have never seen
your older one without lipstick. and you remember that neither of them
understand why your nails cut into your palms at the sight of
your brother’s video games: virtual knives slicing scantily-clad women
in two. no; you toss the peel of the dragonfruit and
down your tea instead. the leaves roam your mouth, nestle between
your molars. on the balcony mama
is hanging up clothes, letting them drip into
the wet maw of the sky. it is not raining but
the humidity exhales through your glasses, fog them white
like the pale skin of a baozi. your fourth aunt rotates the dish
towards you at breakfast, tells you to eat – the custard pillows sweet yellow and
warm inside you; later she will bring you tea cake browned and spotted
like your popo’s hands; later she will bring you ginger-milk to sear
the inside of your cheeks like the needy tongue of a
lover. and you tell yourself you will run three kilometers – because here the treadmills
do not register miles – when you get back to the hotel
in shenzhen. but while you are here you entwine your fingers
around your baby cousin’s, marvel at his miniscule eyes: breath beating
in a skin so small. while you are here you
will teach your cousins how to swear in english and your brother
will join in; you will grin at each other as they – one who
scored first in the province on his final exams – stumble over fuck, shit, and hell: you
teach them a more complex phrase: fuck shit up, before baba
opens the car door from outside and yells at you to get out, breath as hot
as noon.
and when your popo asks you if you like taiping, hair haloed silver
in the sunrise, you smile, wish you could speak cantonese. take her hand instead,
unfold the wrinkles like a scroll from some eons-old dynasty. i do like it,
you say in mandarin, a tongue transplanted
for both of you, a tongue in which there are too many ways
to say yes.


Originally from Seattle, Ana Chen is a student at Stanford University. Her writing has been previously recognized by The Adroit Journal, the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Polyphony Literary Magazine, The Claremont Review, and others. She is also the founder of It’s Real, a magazine seeking to destigmatize mental health issues in Asian American communities.
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