Age: 16, Grade: 11
School Name: Horace Mann School, Bronx, NY
Educator: Wendy Steiner
cooking time: unknown
i. rancid tea
ii. calloused hands
iii. some sterile soap
At eleven, I helped grandma serve oolong, inky
with wilted leaves, to my grandpa’s acquaintances steeped in generations.
Those who still hold onto lukewarm truths curdled the color of moldy white,
lips sipping, slipping, stripping from glass mugs that brim with
burnt rumors and the patriarchal blessings from last century’s leftovers.
Only I can taste the discoloration in her hands, the robust color
of soy sauce, silky fingers marinated too long
in briny sweat and fear and grasping at yearnings of work, work far away
from here. Her fiery, threadbare hair is whipped from a slurry
of customs aged in musty confines and trussed into a bun like one next door.
Only I can watch her carefully measure a cup of simmering resentment
with half cup of bittersweet acceptance and a teaspoon
full of grief as she kneads inside glutenous structures of resistance,
ferments a full-bodied anger, and braids a caramelized bulwark.
The men eagerly cut into the tender breasts of macerated souls, zested
from fresh aspirations of golden kumquats then swiftly minced
under familial blades. Their forks and knives tear to bones women
of the ages who bleed unripe dreams, so fragrant and so
decayed. A classic desert, a tart, chilled silence delicately laid over
her thinly-sliced smiles, is served from cracked china.
I scream — the tea kettle whistles, overflowing with frustration — mute
from the wine stopper hastily jammed down my throat behind the sliding doors and it seems
the guests, our hosts, tonight, yesterday, and tomorrow, are satiated.
Bearing glutted stomachs and wow, a family recipe? Yes,
no, it is your family recipe.