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.
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.