In elementary school, I loved the seafood section, the teeming clams with their tracheal tubes peeking from two shells, Mercy and I poked at them with the scooping nets when the butchers weren’t looking to see if they would react to our prodding. We could stare for hours at the Darwinism acting itself out in gurgling fish tanks as lobsters with red tags clamping their forceps scrambled over each other in close quarters, the undulating fish beating rhythm as a dozen eyes glazed back at us. Once, my mother had to drag me away from a box of frogs just as I reached a questioning hand into their ribbitting colony. She bribed our silence and complacency with rice crackers, pineapple cakes, pretzel sticks, Yan Yan strawberry dips, xiao mantou. Nothing spoke peace more than blissful chewing. Guzzling down Yakult and chrysanthemum tea was how we nursed our lips from the ravage of saltiness. If our mouths were occupied with an assortment of snacks, there would be no room for fighting throughout the rest of the day. We were too focused on making sure the Pocky sticks would ration out for the car ride home, sucking the sweet, pretending we were smoking a long one. Mercy would always be the most patient and giving when Cether and I would beg to share her snacks after we carelessly gobbled ours down. We never saw anyone at Trader Joe’s but here, we managed to always run into another auntie from church, BSF, or PTA who would also be shopping the deal they heard from their friend about the niu rou sale. It made sense, though, where else did all the magic in our kitchens spring from? Even though I can’t read the labels, I know by sight the sauces and spices that are hot pot necessities, the way my mom rests her head against a watermelon to hear its well-grown echo reply back to her. This knowledge, so primal, the taste buds craving the salt and sugar is a heritage I can always name.
Jireh Deng (she/they) was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley of Southern California. Her words appear with the Asian American Writer’s Workshop, podcast “VS”, Edsurge, Level Ground’s “Blooming in the Whirlwind”, and YouthSpeaks’s anthology “Between my Body and the Air”. She is a workshop participant in Get Lit Words Ignite 2020-21 Poetic Screenwriters Lab. Summer of 2021 she will be an editorial pages intern at the LA Times. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter (@jireh_deng).