my mother’s grocery stores were wrapped in red,
white and blue fish under the open sky,
sky filled with ash and dust and cotton fiber,
sky like sticky syrup,
but still sky.
my supermarkets are wholly-enclosed,
Chernobyl’s sarcophagus. American consumerism
is radioactive, seeping under the skin
implanting deep in dark blood, thick blood,
dragging and stopping,
coagulating. it drives her now,
drives her downtown and out-of-town,
to the suburban edges of the city,
not to an open-air market,
nor the Chinese fishmonger on Second Street,
but to the H-Mart. the sign
by the entrance: a white H in a red square,
is splayed against the blue sky.
my anatomy teacher buys pig hearts from
99 Ranch, and I am proud
because my half-Chinese friend buys her
pork jerky from there, not Whole Foods.
whenever we do a dissection, I ask
if she went to that store,
not because I care for the procurement,
but because I want to know if I can claim
the blue-and-red stained kidneys
like I claim a cloudy Chinatown connection:
they’re from Carolina Medical,
injected with latex and formaldehyde.
in class, the chemicals exhume in the air,
dragging across my lungs,
my mother’s asthma went away when she came
she tells me in the H-mart as she shops, green
onions and kale, tomatoes and garlic,
scallion pancake and kimchi and vermicelli.
I want the open-air markets of her childhood,
memories before she moved here,
China and my great-grandfather
who died before I ever went (I still haven’t).
that was the first time I saw her cry—
when he died,
soul ripped upwards through a soupy sky
leaving a smoky trail I can barely grasp.
I talked to him once over the phone,
but he didn’t speak English and I can’t
that is my greatest failing,
my worst betrayal.
smearing mascara. sixteen-year-old fear.
she couldn’t go to China for the funeral.
flights were full. we were in school.
it was quarter-end and
stock prices must stay high.
By Tyler King
Tyler King (b. 2003) is a writer, songwriter, and composer. His work in poetry and prose has been recognized multiple times by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. In addition to writing poetry and fiction reflecting mainly on his Asian-American heritage and the impacts of contemporary masculinity on youth, Tyler co-directs Imagination, his school’s literary journal. There, he focuses on curating new content and helping student-writers develop their unique styles and voices. Tyler attends St. John’s School and resides in Houston, TX.