Jeremy Ra
May 2021
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Jeremy Ra is a Chinese-Korean-American poet, born in Hawaii, grew up in South Korea, and has been living in Los Angeles for the past fifteen years. He has been a finalist for the PEN Center Emerging Voices.

DUMPLINGS (JIAOZI)

 

                        Jiaozi were originally referred to as "tender ears" (Chinese: 嬌耳; pinyin: jiao'er)

                        because they were used to treat frostbitten ears.

 

                        [Textual interpretation: the tender ears of the son of horns]

 

On a frosty morning, the family separates the dough 

into small wrappers, fills them with a pinched ball

of pork rolled with scallions, sauce, and chives.

With water, we seal the dough into half-moons

over and over till the dumplings swell and fill the counter. 

It is not money that makes a family rich. The gods

have settled into the kitchen, and we have been crowded 

ever since. I can never grab the pinch

quite right, so the half-moons don’t keep their pregnancy 

in the boiling water. My grandmother always eats

the half-moons I ruined first. She alone is left

to remember the journey the family made

on a boat to reach Seoul from Shan Dong—

the dumplings, the only heirloom she could carry. 

With an air of constant mourning for a son,

my uncle says she is quiet and has no favorites, 

so any story we tell can never be untrue.

With each chatter thrown into the dinner pyre, 

she buries a lot more than a son, over and over. 

The chives are only potent enough to ward off 

the dead, our relatives who dance with the steam 

in the distance. We know the shapes

of laughter and mime them.

 

***

 

My grandmother hangs

with the ghosts of chives in the air—

she stares at me with a self-devouring gaze, 

divided from me by several oceans. She holds 

my hands that unwrap the half-moons—

fills my ears with dumplings.

EXPIRED LA TIMES SUBSCRIPTION

 

           And all the news just repeats itself / Like some forgotten dream that we've both seen

                     John Prine, “Hello In There”

 

The sales rep asks if you’d like to renew your paper 

subscription, you reply “oh dear, I don’t plan on 

living another year.” Before the rep can recoup

and find an artful way to negotiate

the days you have left for a shorter subscription, 

you hang up. I imagine the rep stunned

as from a tranquilizer dart, holding

the disconnected phone,

trying to recap this to her colleague.

But your fame doesn’t spread fast enough 

because you get the phone call again 

from another rep in 2 months.

 

This is my favorite story to tell about you

during happy hour because it makes death

sound like a sassy girl friend who barges in one night 

uninvited and tells you, “grrrl, put on your best outfit 

because we’re going somewhere special tonight,” 

and doesn’t take no for an answer.

 

I blamed the Times for a long time

because I thought only if it had been more 

persistent about convincing you to extend

the subscription, you wouldn’t have left

so easily. You would still be at your home

because you couldn’t get over your curiosity

of what fresh hell the paper will deliver to your door 

the next day. I say all this to a rep and realize

I’ve been talking to a disconnected phone,

asking the void to answer back.