exfoliation

Yong-yu Huang

Tender cradle breath to begin / smother,

love, to ingest / what haunts the nib of be-

ginnings of my breaths, love / hold: my

 

tongue / seethes against teeth / clamped

jaw in my brain. Wander / with me my / sis-

terhood with none / other than my mouth

 

holds sour / as her despisal / more of my

/ cadaver hangs loose / she refuses / she

abhors, won’t / digest, too much! Tender

cradle breath to / understand, smithereens,

consume / breath is to eat / let her abhor

translation of hi how are you it's been a while since we last talked

remember the flower kimchi you made? you pointed out a patch of dirt next to apartment 224 and its
thirty-story gray stone glory, dirt no wetter or browner than any other bunch, said you buried your kimchi there to ferment. behind the workout area where our single digit bodies spilled over into from the playground. you know, my umma didn’t let me run in the fountain sprouting from the playground tiles
after the first year because she learned that the water beneath was static all year till summer: gross,
mosquito-egg-laden. and the red metal arch structure with rungs that i was too scared to climb to the top of
– did you know that’s a sculpture? a girl fell off of it and broke her arm in fourth or fifth grade. that’s
probably after you left. each year one of us left for a different corner of the city till i was the only one left
playing mickey mouse. i don’t remember what that game was. but i played it with other kids if we weren’t
sharing a dish of tteokbokki among three people, running with hot odeng broth brimming the paper cups in
our seared hands, or picking tiny water snails from the artificial streams tucked in the flank of our home
apartment complex away from the six lane roads and the city hall and seoul itself. around the time you left
and so your umma stopped feeding me blueberry smoothies and costco pasta i stopped making fake food
too. i just grew out of pulling cheoljjook petals and whatever those long glossy leaves are, mashing them with
chair contraptions meant for glute strength and shredding them with rocks. i imagine my specialty salad and
your kimchi would seem the same to the untrained eye without a first grade chef’s expertise. were you there
that day in first grade, pouring water into the sandy rectangle of a school field and darkening the ground
with me? a kid from another class called us childish and we were angry so i said i wanted to kill her because i
thought that’s what angry people say. my umma told me that in america people go to prison just for saying
they want to kill somebody. i live in america now and i’m pretty sure plots or threats of murder lands you in
prison everywhere. i live in the suburbs, the desert, and there’s plenty of sand and dust but never a good
patch of plant-growth dirt, the kind that drinks the water you feed it, the type you can unearth and place a
pot of real kimchi to ferment or a bunch of flower petals to rot. it’s not like i particularly want to garden or
see dirt. i have a backyard i go out to twice a year. it’s not like i wish eleven years later now that we could dig
up your fake kimchi to marvel at the wonders of childhood and imagination. but tell me, is my city doing
well? when you’re done with college entrance exams, i’ll let you know if i’m in town. let’s go see if the same
cherry blossoms and cheoljjook line the sidewalks in the apartment complex we all left. if the fountains still
work in the playground that none of us are left in. i want to see if everything’s fermented the way we left it.

YONG-YU HUANG is a Taiwanese teenager whose work has been previously published by The Heritage Review, Eunoia Review, and The Rising Phoenix Review, among others.

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