Lisa Low

Ruby’s First Asian Crush

Ruby’s first Asian crush is Daniel,
who sits with the cool kids

on the bus, his gelled hair like her
brother’s, eyes dark as the punctures

in the seat in front of her.
From three rows away Ruby listens

for his voice, picks at the foam
stuffing until her finger grows

dusty enough to blow a wish
off it. Almost summer, her thighs

suctioned to the vinyl make
kissing sounds as she shifts

left to right. If they get married,
Ruby thinks, she’ll be nervous

her Chinese isn’t good enough
for his parents. But she wouldn’t

have to answer What are you?
or teach him how to hold

chopsticks like a pencil.
He’d know not to stick them

straight up in his rice
like incense, like she’d done

last week, her mother scolding
her for beckoning the dead.

 

Ruby Envies White Girls

Their ponytails windswept as horse manes.
Their sparkly eyelids and fingernails. Their fingers
glittered with potato chips. Their miniature cheese-
and-cracker lunches. Their mothers’ love notes melted
against their ice packs. Their pine-scented fathers,
their guy friends who make them nicknames. Their
worldly babysitters, their dolls who look like them,
their famous doppelgängers. Their voices like spells
and legs like wax figures’. Their floating above
ground, their flying away with no one to catch them
out in the dark, no one to call them home from the mall.

 

At 13, Ruby Worries

She will never get married. She wants
a child so badly she eats a crateful

of strawberries down to their caps, a pile
of doll-sized leaves. If Ruby could live

in a treehouse, she would love her
mother more. She would eat Ruffles

and French fries each meal, each kiss
from her husband so salty no soda

could wash it down, gummies sparkling
the floor like sequins. Ruby wouldn’t tell

her children what or when to eat.
She would never eat her scabs again.

 

Two Truths and a Lie

At 5, Ruby counts to 100 in Chinese. A roomful of aunties and uncles applaud her. The ringing lasts in her body for days; when she closes her eyes, numbers illuminate her eyelids like falling Tetris pieces.

Ruby can teach you how to write angel in Chinese, characters she writes all over her binder in Wite-Out. She can get around if you drop her in the middle of Hong Kong, can say this bag is mine, I respect your customs, what is this made from?

Ruby chooses her own Chinese name because her mother wouldn’t give her one. Ruby chooses one of three options her mother gives her because her mother forgot to give her one. Ruby chooses her name because her brother was given one and she wasn’t. Ruby chooses a name her mother forgets to use.

 

Letters, Part 1

after Claudia Cortese

 
 
Dear Lisa,

I don’t know why you made an invisible girl. I eat scabs at recess, draw my name on the dusty ceiling fan, shake vending machines like my sleeping mother. Give me a braid like a lasso, elastic chokers so the other girls can see the lace of my neck. Make me a mermaid on a turquoise rock, sparking thunderstorms with the tip of my finger. When you said I envied white girls, did you picture your own schoolyard bullies? Teachers who called you the other Asian girls’ names? It’s true, I hate my staticky hair, throw away my tofu at lunchtime, but why don’t I speak, how come I don’t know the sound of my voice? I look for you under the super moon but my mother says don’t bother, you’ve found yourself a white boyfriend.

Sincerely,
Ruby

*

Dear Ruby,

I dyed your doll’s hair black when your mother wasn’t looking. I know what you crave—taped recordings of TRL, kisses that taste like barbecue chips. When I wrote your hair petrified into an ice sculpture, I meant the body is to be loved and feared. There’s a headlamp in your father’s glove compartment, and your mother should face the wall if she wants. The other girls at school will put their hands right through you, like a ghost, until one day they’ll beg to braid your hair too. When I turn you into a Power Ranger, I mean to say the body throws its voice into the future, bottled message in another little girl’s hands.

Love,
Lisa

 

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Lisa Low was born and raised in Maryland. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Passages North, Vinyl, Day One, The Journal, The Collagist, and elsewhere. She lives in Bloomington, IN, where she recently earned her MFA in poetry at Indiana University.