“You distinguish yourself by not doing what others do.”
~ Alan Dundes, American Folklorist
My cousins and I pinch our noses, squealing from the absent parts of the pig not on Baabaa’s cutting board. Whenever she cooks pig’s feet soup, we dare one another to lick its cold skin, supple like a rubber eraser. Having touched its elongated toes before, we’d grown up indifferent to an array of offal; what we knew of God’s touch, we experienced through Baabaa’s beatings.
Our classmates squeal at us, Filthy animals! We gnaw on toes enveloped in their own shit. When we asked Baabaa if this was true, she said, Who don’t eat cheat time from time? Only our eyes laugh when she says cheat instead of shit. We don’t correct her, especially after the first time Jiji went missing, returning home a week later. He was so drunk, Baabaa had to undress and bathe her husband. He reeked of beer and piss—Cheat!—and something sweet she’d encountered before. Cheat! Cheat! Cheat!
It’s dizzying, having necessary parts lopped off. Baabaa never speaks of her family in Okinawa, the first island she lived on. She speaks Japanese and Okinawan, but to us, she barks lifted words until we nod, pretending we understand English. The second time Jiji disappeared, Baabaa beat him over the head when he came home, threatened to slice off his boto next time. About the bullies, Baabaa tells us, Mo bettah they scare you away, than say they want some, too.
Beneath the pig’s chalky skin, tiny red vessels bloom, echoing the blue veins on Mary Jane’s white cheeks. The one classmate who doesn’t tease us says, The Filipinos eat dog; the Hawaiians ate Captain Cook. I want to believe she’s my friend, so I steal a mechanical pencil from her fancy pencil box, a magnetic clasp secures its contents. We don’t buy what we can’t afford for all the cousins, so we carry our pencils like switchblades, safeguarding our place in the world.
At school, half of our teachers are White, the other half are Asian, but it doesn’t matter since our family’s partial to famous movie stars. My eldest cousins Grace (Kelly) and Sandra (Dee), look alike and trade places to confuse their White teachers. We have five Uncles Bob (Hope), three uncles Dean (Martin); and four uncles George (Burns). Baabaa believes wearing English names would make us more American. Except when Jiji falls asleep in front of the tv, and the national anthem plays, we feel less patriotic as the flag stutters up the pole like a ghost watching its own back, aiming for a hole in the sky to return to the other side.
By the late afternoon, everything falls off the bone. Caught in Baabaa’s rolling boil, the aunties are shooed out of the kitchen. She adds half moons of daikon, knotted konbu strips, mustard cabbage, bamboo shoots, and handfuls of Chinese parsley.
We discard inedible bits in a bowl at the center of the children’s table. The younger ones watch as we build a tower of bones. Founded on masticated leftovers, this is how we build a family. The youngest ones follow our fingers, our faces, back to our fingers. No one talks as beads of fat, the color of second-hand pearls nestle between our knuckles. We slurp gel and joints, insert fingers to peel back the fatty skin, like wrapping paper, like a gift we can never replace.
SHAREEN K. MURAYAMA — Shareen is an Okinawan American and Japanese American poet and educator. Her first chapbook, Hey Girl, Are You in the Experimental Group? by Harbor Editions and her first poetry collection, Housebreak by Bad Betty Press, will be published in 2022. She reads poetry for The Adroit Journal and CNF for JMWW. You can find her on IG & Twitter @AmBusyPoeming.
Art by DREW DIONNE — Drew is an illustrator and digital artist based out of Maine. He makes art for his enjoyment on his Instagram page @sketching_randomly.