your name isn’t supposed to have layers
when you say it, the taste shouldn’t last longer than a moment
it’s the kind of sweet that lingers on your tongue
dances around and reminds you of your identity
and dissolves as soon as you lick your lips
but how do i taste the sweet when i possess
a glossy name punctured by two oozing, messy words
stuck at the top of my mouth, sticky with embarrassment
jeong yun. no matter how many times my friends tried to fish it out
i’d clamp my mouth shut and tell them it wasn’t important.
that was a lie. obviously i cared about the words that
carved out my existence, i just didn’t have the luxury
to break off and share like loaves and fishes
at least, not for a crowd eager to grind it all up into
something they could laugh at, gray sludge from
what was once a fragment of my heritage.
it coated my childhood, a membrane of syllables
not meant to be pronounced with a foreign tongue
but it always was, always butchered
its pink flesh pinned to your American tablecloth
each sound cutting it into pieces to fit a foreign palate
baptized with vanilla and cinnamon that drowns out
ginger, sesame, and soy
they wouldn’t just be laughing at me
but my grandfather, who dreamt of how
my name would carry the sky and the stars
walking on water across the ocean to America.
but when they mutilated my name with exaggerated syllables
and mocking tongues, i couldn’t carry the world on my back anymore.
i could barely manage the weight of the mess contained in my mouth,
colorful cultural flavors locked away—
i crucified them with my tongue,
saying it to an audience who’d never tasted it before.
a menu they don’t care to read but love to critique
arrays of names beautiful to all but the audience
each name got its own package, two sprinklings of preface saying
“i know it’s not a common name, i’m sorry”
i’m reassuring them that it will be over soon
and it is. i spit it out painfully, and as the name leaves my mouth
jeong yun — so does my comfort, everything spilling out
as i struggle to hold my mouth closed before
i vomit up my pride.
it’s funny how protective i am of my middle name
when for most of my life, it was my only name
leaving sticky residue on my official transcript, my passport,
and the standardized test that i hid under the fold of my elbow
worried someone would detect the alien sequence of letters
and make me seem more foreign than i want to be,
forcing me to swallow my name, whole.
Joanne Park is a junior at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, CA who writes and performs poetry. She has previously won a number of awards for the Scholastic Art and Writing competition, been published in the Young Writers Anthology, and edits for both her school’s literary magazine and school newspaper. Outside of writing, she loves to compete in speech and debate, where she is exposed to both classical philosophy, current events, and critical theory.