Peeling Oranges

This poem is about kitchen memories. Having grown up in various apartments and houses across three different countries, I have always had a vivid memory of kitchens, linked to who I was at a particular stage in my life. But these memories are, at the same time, always mundane. Kitchens are spaces of making. I wanted to explore how the physical space and objects of a kitchen can reflect the unspoken words and tensions in moments of personal making, growth, and realization, specifically as it unfolds in family relationships.

a meat cleaver hangs over the edge of the kitchen island,
watching over the tile floors lightly streaked with grime, I

sit at the head of the dining table peeling mandarin oranges,
watching the pot of wontons slowly boil over itself, engulfed

in a swamp of foam, my mother rushes in with her good hand,
un-lidding the pot to breath: there are so many ways to peel

mandarin oranges, you can start with the chubby sides or
behead the short stem or finger the bottom dimple until the

orange opens itself, a slow undressing staining my
unsteady thumbs. Peeling, I quiet myself. In the corner of my

eye, my mother lifts the ladle to set the water again, a calming
sizzle over my nerves to tell her, I cannot be the son she wants, I

cannot unfold myself, so I hold orange flesh, noticing the insides
are slowly starting to spoil and need to be eaten soon.

Huan He is based in Los Angeles and is the author of Sandman (2022), which won the 2021 Diode Editions Chapbook Contest. His poetry explores race, sexuality, and belonging from the perspective of a queer Chinese American raised by the prairies. His poems appear/are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal (2021 Adrienne Rich Award Semifinalist), A Public Space, Hayden’s Ferry Review (Poetry Contest Finalist), Alaska Quarterly Review, Palette Poetry, wildness, RHINO, Black Warrior Review (Boyfriend Village), and DIALOGIST. He is a PhD candidate in American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California.