being brown in fifteen minutes

This poem was written in fifteen minutes, hence the title. If I were to present my culture in fifteen minutes, these are the things I would talk about: breaking traditional Asian stereotypes, knowing basic words (most of them food), and being misunderstood based on my appearance. This poem is one of several in my poetry collection titled “Do Not Feed the Animal” (yet to be published). The collection focuses on my experiences as an Asian American, working with kids with autism, and my life in San Francisco. Each poem mentions at least one food. Despite the racial prejudice and other mishaps I have (and will certainly continue to) experienced, I am proud of who I am.

I didn’t get into Harvard but it’s not like I was
going to be a doctor anyways. flesh colored band-
ages are just streaks of flour on my bread crust
flesh, nude underwear telling me I’m raw and
unbaked. I didn’t know how to use chopsticks
until I was an undergraduate, couldn’t speak
beyond hai and tempura udon onegaishimasu to
Fumi-san at her café. I stared down my D+ in
elementary Japanese and it stared back, its gaping
mouth a loud empty watermelon, seedless and sad.

mom still believes that listening to classical music
(the kind I played cymbals and triangle for in orchestra
and pretended I knew on the piano) makes people
smarter. but as much as I listened to the music sharpened
by the spidery fingers of long dead whites while doing
introduction to calculus homework, the highest score I
ever got on those exams was a twenty eight percent. if
I could take the derivative of für elise and build a fence
around it against the side of a cliff whose side is x, then
maybe I could stop beating my heart with a worn rice scoop.
I’ve stopped eating white rice. only brown for me.

I can’t point out Ilocos on a map, can’t stomach bloody
pork or lifeless fish eyes. when people ask me if I’ve been
back, I say there’s no back to return to. my childhood is
central valley dust and walnut shells, asthma and learning
how to prove my worth in a language that people say should
be my second. say hi in your language, they order. hello,
I say, and they’re disappointed that I use white words yet
loathe shakespeare. actually, I don’t know who’s more
frustrated. where does it hurt, my gym teacher asked me
after a ball hit my chest. she looked me a question when
I said my suso. the word vagina startles me, so I still think
pepit. I curl into a ball as I gush thick blood onto a white pad.

Hikari Leilani Miya is a Japanese Filipina American, 2019 Cornell University English major graduate, and a current poetry MFA candidate at the University of San Francisco who identifies with the LGBTQ community. She is the assistant poetry editor for USFCA’s literary magazine, Invisible City. She has publications forthcoming in Cobra Milk and The Bitchin’ Kitsch, and in Macguffin, Litbreak, San Francisco City College’s Forum, Jet Fuel Magazine, and Canadian magazine Fleas on the Dog. She currently lives with her two snakes and disabled cat, but has a menagerie of other pets at home in the Central Valley of California. She is a behavioral therapist for children with autism, pianist, percussionist, and music arranger, as well as a competitive card game player.