Heritage Unwound

my grandmother pulls parsed consonants
from her lips the way she unearths the soft underbelly
of steamed fish, separating bone from skin, sinew from flesh
she wraps vowels with the soft skin of baozi, molding
and pinching them into shape, sinking valleys under her fingertips
she flavors her syllables with crushed garlic, ginger
sliced with sharp inflections in tone, dipped in rice wine
until they taste of fermented memories of famine—
dessicated terracotta earth drought of moisture, wet rice
brought to parched lips, chewing slowly, carefully

I was raised on the language of gluttony
the words that come out of my mouth drip
thick sesame oil, coagulating in the corners,
consonants caught in the edges I am trying to pry dialects
I cannot claim from blood-stained fingers that have clawed
at the earth for too long, plucking diphthongs
from rice fields and trying to fuse the vowels together
with glistening tar—floods carve a river through my throat
and heritage that is not mine seeps from my lips

This is a reprint of work originally published in Rust + Moth.

Jennifer Chiu is a writer from Memphis, TN. She has been recognized by Susquehanna University and the National Poetry Quarterly, and her prose and poetry are published or forthcoming in Rust + Moth, sinθ, Minute Magazine, and perhappened mag, among others. When she’s not writing, she can be found admiring the sky or bullet journaling with one of her twenty-one 0.38mm black pens.

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