Gnashing Teeth Publishing

| words that get in your teeth

self-portrait of Asian American as dumpling / crowdpleaser by m.o. kng

“who the fuck does slanty-eyes think she is?

why won’t [you] do anything about the wonton?”

Sharon Osbourne, speaking about her co-worker Julie Chen

for $5 you get the Wednesday special. a

whole-ass plate to yourself,

pristine pillows of dough fried to a crisp.

you want that good crunch, that tension before you

snap through to the substance; the

meat. after all, what’s the body of a dumpling but

a vessel for whatever you want to fill it with:

yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

model minority crust with a delicious accusation in the middle;

choose your flavor of yellow terror.

what’ll it be today? are we

useless leeches

or job thieves?

too dumb to learn English

or too smart for our own good?

the guilty pleasure in your spa room

or the sirens on your shoulder you need to silence?

officer, i’m sorry – it was my cheat day. don’t you know i

wouldn’t have shot if they hadn’t seduced me first? that

cheap Chinese eats are my all-American birthright? that

the only good Asian is the one you can

curse before devouring

in one bloody bite?

i hunger for a day when i can write anything other than a

fucking dumpling poem. a poem about anything other than

mincing my feelings into marbled bits;

folding them into thinly-veiled metaphors;

chopping, slicing, deep frying the contents of a breaking heart

until i have something good enough to plate,

something firm enough to hold together

but tender enough to melt in some

penny pinching customer’s mouth. whatever. i regret to

inform you the restaurant is closed today for a private

family matter. when i try to speak at the wake my words gristle

in my throat; ticker tape it up with raw beef, egg, scallion.

register locked, i swallow my feelings and pass out on the

kitchen floor; concussed, my memory stretches back

buckwheat wild to my doljanchi: the first birthday party.

if you make it around the sun once, my parents remind me,

you can do it again. just keep your head down, your feet on

the ground. mortgage your wildest aspirations into

bite-size payments; settle for

dollar-store balloons, slices of cake, Dixie plates piled high,

presents strewn across the floor like a landscape of

fenced-in possibilities.

each object a symbol of a different destiny:

a gavel for justice,

a stethoscope for health,

a book for scholarship,

grains of rice for wealth. everyone watches to see

where i crawl, what path to security i claim as mine. i

wish it were so simple. instead i

stay put, stretch my fingers out into

noodles. for once, i do not cut my words short, do not

fold my feelings, do not knead myself into anything softer.

i grow longer and longer until i can tourniquet myself around

grieving families from Oakland to Atlanta, until i can stretch

farther than small minds or mouths can hold, until i can soak up

flavors so fresh we only dream of them in our sleep,

hopes so potent that for a moment

i swear we could choke on them.

m.o is a high-school English teacher in the Bay Area who loves raising their adopted gecko baby, playing Ring Fit Adventure on Switch, and curating a sick collection of discount frozen meals. In college, they self-published their first book, speech therapy, in order to raise money for the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. Their 2021 resolution is to embrace failure and rejection.

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