Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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We Have To

Ma calls Dad’s old neighborhood bad without questioning
who she means. Waters the roses in our front yard till they turn
white. Ma teaches me the names of her favorite flowers
in English. Orchids. Hydrangea. Bougainvillea. We buy
potted seagrass from Costco in bulk. Uproot our soil. Ma was twenty-six
when she crossed the Pacific to get here. Southern California
growing a bright tangerine escape outside her window. Ma’s skin:
so light she could almost be East Asian. We’re not Orientals,
she reminds me in the Safeway parking lot. Points with her lips
at a woman, who could be my auntie, loading a rotisserie
chicken inside her backseat. Must be a mail order bride, Ma
hisses. Ma tells the story of the wild chicken. Who pecked
and pecked at her heels on the way to school each morning.
English was our medium of instruction, Ma snaps when I correct
her pronunciation. I have an in-ternship, not an in-turn-ship,
I say. Ma asks me again not to wear yellow, or white, because
it heightens the contrast against my skin. Said nothing when
I pulled the bridge of my nose shut with two clothespins. I dig
my fingers in the dirt to replant her unpigmented roses. Nick
my thumb and suck the blood dry. Ask Ma where home is, she’ll say,
I never wanna go back. Ask for her tongue, she’ll boil you
a pot of chicken. Ask again about the wild chicken, she’ll say,
One day, Nanay came and just snapped her neck. Served her
the next evening at dinner
I wince. I don’t think I could ever do that.
Ma turns to me.
Anak, we do what we have to.  

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