I am on my second date with Trader Joe and I think I’m falling
for him. He holds my hand and I taste soil. I close my eyes
and float fluorescent. He hands me a tomato
and I ripen to this. I think he likes me too.
He whispers in my ear, “There is work in the country. We must go to the country.”
When I get coffee with Trader Joe he lets me go first. Joe owns
three large dogs and this does not frighten me. Joe is raking leaves
in the backyard and in the kitchen I gut fish.
I am five years old in the motherland, sweating into settled dust
and scratching at bug bites in the courtyard. My grandmother
emerges from the shed and snaps the neck of her best chicken.
I am so sure I will never love again.
She does not let me look away because I am a stupid American girl.
We sit on the pavement while blood pools from the empty cavern of its neck.
I tell her I need to pee. I squat over the ditch and think of what to say.
Joe makes chicken parm for dinner and we sit in front of the TV
watching Survivorman. Joe comments on the penis of survivor man.
Often I am devastated by the way he laughs. I know I will survive him.
I know that in his sleep he speaks lecherously of authentic living.
I imagine how hunger feels in his body and I can’t.
He tells me, “the agricultural co-operative movement has been a severe ideological struggle.”
My grandmother flies to us and visits, dyes her hair for this young country.
She takes plant cuttings from the traffic islands.
She does not tell me about culture or revolution. At restaurants
she doesn’t know to latch the bathroom stall closed behind her
so I follow and stand outside in case a white lady comes.
Joe is angry because my grandmother hates our hummingbird feeder.
He talks about pollination and dying bees and beauty.
She says nothing but refuses to use sugar like that. She gives them plain water.
I sneak back and replace it with syrup. She and Joe don’t notice.
The hummingbirds return. My red apron with little flowers is Joe’s favorite.
“We must have faith in the masses,” says Trader Joe.
Trader Joe keeps his books on the kitchen table. I am writing a paper.
I am discussing the narrative shift from labor reform to ethical consumerism
as the distraction of alienation. Joe writes a poem about empathy.
He feeds me an organic granola bar.
In the bedroom our safe word is Mitt Romney.
At his family barbecue Joe claims, “without socialization of agriculture, there can be no consolidated socialism”
I am eight years old in the motherland, drinking bottled water
in the countryside. My cousin is prettier than me
so I make fun of her for being adopted. I sit in the shade
swatting mosquitoes and I do not realize this also means abandoned.
My watermelon rinds are still pink at the edges
when I throw them at goats in the cemetery.
The grass itches tall with sweating and insects.
She bites hers half an inch closer, into the pale tasteless green.
She throws better than me but this is not what she wants to do.
Years later I think about forgiveness and say nothing.
Years later I meet her in a multinational corporation
and we go grocery shopping and
we arrive in the future at last.
“That’s nice,” says Trader Joe. “Baby steps.”
Jessica Yuan is a graduate student studying architecture at Harvard. She has work published or forthcoming in Whether Magazine, Blueshift Journal, and various student publications. In 2015 she was a Connecticut Poetry Circuit student poet, and during her time at Yale college she was president of the Asian American spoken word group Jook Songs.