WINSHEN LIU

You know the kind of school

My friend shared the writing prompt: What is a dish you loved as a child but have never made as an adult? What did you love about it or what memories do you associate with it? Why haven’t you made it yourself? I loved and still love tea eggs. At first, I thought I hadn’t made them due to the time-consuming process, but I have made many time-consuming dishes from scratch (dumplings, mushroom ravioli, mole, tikka masala, etc.). Then I remembered fifth grade, when I brought tea eggs to school for an Ellis Island assignment. I remembered feeling excited, only to experience a “lunchbox moment.” The poem came out of unearthing this memory. Though I know it plays into an immigrant trope, I hope my poem centers on a child’s love for their parents and frames this racism in the context of a school, where problematic lessons were and still are taught.

Assigned in November, we were to

become pilgrims on the

classroom ship, so my mother crafted

dress and collar for me to

emulate Honor and Prudence.

For January’s lesson, we drew

“gentry” or “slave” from a

hat and I wish

I could say we threw Ticonderogas,

jumped onto desks. But I

knew too little then, only afraid of

losing the few friends I had.

March meant Ellis Island Day, when we

needed to bring a dish from

our heritage. Per my request, my

parents braised eggs for hours. The spiced soy sauce

quelled their fears I’d forget where I was from.

Really from. But my classmates showed up with

spaghetti and shortbread. Store-bought cake. It wasn’t that the

teacher opened the pan after dessert, or that my classmates

uttered ew like a punchline. It wasn’t my

voyage home on the bus; it was the pan’s

weight in my mother’s hands, with

exactly the same contents as

yesterday. Two dozen eggs—instead of

zero—inside.

Winshen Liu is from Illinois. Her poems have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Frontier Poetry, The Malahat Review, The Rumpus, and Southeast Review, among others. Follow her work at
winshenliu.com.

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