This piece is featured in Issue No. 8 CUTIE BIPOC ISSUE


diaspora guilt \\ red-not-ginger-not-galangal

diaspora guilt

I’m not suited to this.
The wind is like bodies pressed against each other in a crowd,
thick, as if there is something burning all around us
and releasing colourless smoke
(I would ask about incense, but petrichor is sometimes lovelier).
Fatigue is sending me earthbound, 
and I'm sure this would be relaxing
if I was in a hammock instead of
I'm supposed 
to be. My brother
is walking far ahead by now--
the fire is at home in his body
and his tongue holds spice like mine holds sweetness.
The trees here are the biggest I've ever seen:
they swallow storms and I can't stop drinking in
their presence.
When I go hiking and sweat through all my clothes, I laugh
because I have finally blended into the space around me.
Are the pastels in my lipstick and Peranakan cookware the same?
Am I queer the way that qilin are chimeras of scales and flame?
This far-away place and the far-away in me
have met
like a storm, so
if I breathe and my chest aches 
with the weight of tropical air,
does it prove the effort I've made to bend
my diasporic tongue into a shape that channels clouds,
drinks like the trees,
holds both spice and sweetness,
a shape that feels like home?


Granny used to pound garlic, chilis, shallots
in a mortar and pestle, and the smell
would be divine,
my mom says.

I have a jar of pre-minced ginger 
in the fridge, but the recipe calls for galangal,
and a better mortar and pestle than the one I got from Kitchen Stuff Plus

I have a jar of Lao Gan Ma
in the fridge; married with garlic and ginger, that smell
is divine

and it gives the fried rice a little colour--
isn't it funny how ginger root is pale yellow
and ginger hair is orange?

I remember when my dad was younger
I remember seeing photos of him in the 80s
I remember where my curls come from
when I see hints of red in certain lights

by which I mean: red like fox fur,
not like chili sauce, by which I mean: ginger
which is not galangal

and I think if I could actually cook Peranakan food, maybe
I'd feel like the ocean wasn't a stranger

I don't know whose eyes I need to look into to find home
when home was conquered and re-conquered and colonized
and ginger-red-not-red became bad luck
and the code that makes up my tongue decided
that it can't tolerate chili

which I spoon into my fried rice
and buy dried for ayam temprah (digging out all the seeds first)
and get a little bit used to, every time
and the smell is divine

when the ocean stares back does it see a stranger
and when the crowd passes will I see a flash of ginger hair
or the eyes that will look into mine
and see home

EatoughAug262021 ScholarsNook 18


Vale is a queer, mixed-race millennial from Mississauga. Now living and working in Toronto, they write poetry about small happinesses, mental illness, the making of community, and questions of identity. When not balancing their day jobs or creating art, Vale enjoys video games, fashion, noodle soup, and doing stand-up comedy. \\ IG: @coolartbadhair