extra tofu

the summer before high school I learn Chinese 
because I like the mountains in National Geographic 

a month of language camp “up north” 
horse flies, cabins, bonfires, a lake 

in class I practice bending my tongue into new shapes, 
and writing characters with even strokes 

out of class I listen to kids talk about drugs and blacking out
I learn some kids didn’t want to come here— their parents made them

I make a friend who tells me about wanting to die 
I have braces and sunburnt cheeks 

at meals we speak only in Chinese 
I repeat niunai doufu wo bu chi rou 

there is a girl in the kitchen with short hair and strong shoulders 
I meet her eyes on purpose when I ask for extra tofu

Billie Ouellette-Howitz

Billie Ouellette-Howitz is an emerging writer whose work has appeared in a variety of magazines and literary journals including So to Speak, and Calyx. Their essay, Bent: Daughterhood Recalled Through Skin and Bone, was first-runner up for the 2019 Margarita Donnelly Prize for Prose Writing. They use fragmented and experimental literary forms to explore the intersection of brain, body, and identity. They live above a coffee shop with their cats 豆苗 and 豆花 in St. Paul, Minnesota.
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