“Yellow” * Prose Poem * Y. C. Lin

i.

My mother knocks it against the counter and splits it cleanly in half. Yellow yolk slides smoothly into porcelain. She whisks the mixture, tilting the bowl. This way more air goes in, she shows me, arm moving swiftly back and forth. Yellow spills into the clear. The fork clacks rhythmically against the bowl while the oil in the pan sizzles on the stove. There is the loud, incessant noise of the ventilation hood, the rising smoke, the hazy heat, the golden range top light that falls more slowly than time.

There I stand by the kitchen counter, hands on the cool, smooth granite surface. Tilt the bowl so more air goes in. I knock the egg against the counter and get a handful of gooey white. There is a slide door my mother only closes when the smoke grows too thick. It was left open that day; there were cracks in the white paint of the near wall.

 

ii.

The saying goes: the moon at home is brighter, the water sweeter.

My uncle cooks stir-fried carrots and eggs. He heats the pan with oil and garlic, slides the grated carrots in, and pours the eggs as thick, pluming smoke rises. It is a simple household dish for many. But my mother never cooked carrots with eggs. She stir-fried the grated carrots and then added water, closed the lid on the pan, and let the steam fog the glass dome. The carrots came out tender and sweet—sweet, so sweet we ate them in spoonsful and spoonsful, drinking up the last drops of juice, swallowing the bright color.

I put my uncle’s stir-fry in my mouth. My chopsticks reach over thrice; twice; once. I taste the eggs and the carrots and I taste nothing; I taste the faint aroma of garlic and I taste nothing; I feel the eggs against the roof of my mouth, I feel it against my teeth, I swallow and I am starving and I cannot eat anymore. I am sick with fullness. I am sick with hunger.

 

iii.

We left our old house in the balmy heat of summer.

Luggage and legs and arms and stray shoes cluster at the front door, waiting for the elevator. Half lightly, this might be the last time we see our house. I want to touch the wooden seat on top of the shoe rack, glinting amber under the yellow light, I want to touch the wall, anything, but I am stranded amidst luggage and legs and arms and stray shoes so I quickly lower my head. I quickly close my eyes, hoping no one would notice, and whisper thank you.

The elevator arrives before I finish, and I am rushed into the cool blue light.

That summer, we walked all over the city. It was odd, because we always used to drive, but that summer we walked through the sultry heat of the night, the way summer was back there, thick with heat and humidity, walked through the bright shop signs and horning headlights and the blinking traffic light, walked through the streets, bare arms bare legs bare toes in sandals. When the wind slid along skin it was impalpable. We’d never eaten at that restaurant before. This, too, was new. For years we had eaten at the same restaurants without foraying into the unknown, and suddenly we were sitting on plastic stools ordering scrambled eggs with prawns. It looked so ordinary. My mother said she didn’t know how to cook it. On the wall the news ticker was running parallel to the voice of the anchor, bright screen tiny letters moving moving.

 

iv.

In America, dumplings are not dumplings and pot-stickers are not pot-stickers and Chinese take-out restaurants are take-out restaurants before they are Chinese.

I open the doors to my old house, finding the cracks gone and everything moved slightly to the left.

 

v.

I am standing in the kitchen next to my mother. The lights, when flicked on, are pale and tinged with blue. Now, however, they are off. The kitchen is illuminated by the morning light.

She teaches me how to make an omelet. She cracks an egg, tilts the bowl—but wait! Hustles to the refrigerator and takes out the milk. This will make the egg tender, she says. White spills into yellow spills into the clear as fork clacks against bowl. She tests the heat of the pan with the heel of her palm before pouring the egg in, the way she’d taught me how to do it—the way I do it—

 

vi.

The first summer I went back, I composed a list.

I am going to eat: braised pork rice, milkfish soup, fried sweet potato balls, fried rice with prawns, braised makino bamboo shoots…

My mother brings out the dumplings from the kitchen. She bought them at the store across from the market, where she has always bought dumplings. The pork filling comes apart on the tongue with a soft nudge, the earthy, pungent scent of garlic chives filling the mouth—suddenly I am hungry. Squeezed in front of the television around the small couch, the house haphazard with boxes that have not yet been unpacked, the hazy light of noon spilling from the window, I am hungry. I reach for another, two more, three. Hunger is a memory awakened; I am remembering; I am full, I want more—

 

vii.

Days before Thanksgiving break, over the phone, my mother asked what I wanted to eat when I come home.

The yellow light painted the surface of my wooden desk amber. I thought about it and said: pesto pasta and bread-fried pork chops.

She makes scrambled eggs with prawns alongside the pork chops. She had learned how to cook the dish after she came to America, though she always says it doesn’t come out quite right. I take a spoonful, unthinking, and eat it with a mouthful of rice. What is it this time? The tender scrambled eggs, just salty enough that the taste lingers, and the smell of chopped scallions. I remember the taste, so ordinary I had overlooked it. The memory resurfaces now.

I reach for more.

 

—About the Author—

Y. C. Lin is a freshman majoring in English and American Literature at New York University.