​​H E R M E N E U T I C   C H A O S   J O U R N A L

​james a.h. white


I don’t have Japanese eyes like my mother’s. Mine aren’t so deep in hiding, sucked in squint. Those epicanthic folds, tucked straits of Asia synonymous with her side of the family. Mine don’t narrow as steeply, plateau like window awnings. But my skin is dark and freckled like hers—we, the other color of Japanese. A mustard brown, jaundice yellow beneath our wrists and high neck fronts. Hold a buttercup to your neck and if it reflects, you’re in love. If you’re in love. Who are you in love with? Tell me. How in some lights we are green like boat sick, sky deck sick, like backseat family car ride sick, the white kids asking if I am Mexican green

Point to your veins. Vein green. It’s my eyes. They change colors. 

And they pull their eyes up and to the side and I do too because up means Chinese and we can laugh together, jumping and pulling up until it hurts. Like we want to take off. Let our eyes lift us like a balloon, rising like bread. Change our voice from horns to bells, clingclang gong gonging, chime chiming. Move our hands in front of our heart, bow in child’s prayer, break to hold our stomachs in. Hide the Pacific sun with my chin, wrists in my eyes.

When someone told the teacher another boy had called me a “Tourist,” I begged her not to call my mother. That what the boy said really wasn’t that bad. That I could forgive him and not be upset at all. Pull it together, wipe up the tears. Save them for my pillow. Tried to be funny; make her laugh. I wouldn’t tell on you. But I saw my mother’s hands half an hour later wildly framing the red office window. Heard her voice tug across the playground, a sudden sideways rainfall of broken English, throwing her body’s gestures like spit. Man’s spit on the sidewalk, frothy clear, bubbling pale. Told me to avoid the wet and the dark. Step around, step around.

One by one everyone turned from the whiteboard toward the echoes. Listened to her demands. She wants a phone number? Some way to reach a boy’s parents? Fragments here and there. That her 

son-un-un-un is having-ng-ng
   enough     trouble-le-le         without
     other boys            telling him-mmm    
               things-ss like that-a-ta-ta-tat

After school I met her inside the corner dairy store, she, shouting at the cashier for shorting her change. Anger sick; swindle sick; pulled-a-fast-one sick. Told me the woman was trying to trick her out of a dollar—at least. I counted the coins and it was all there in her hands, everything adding up. But I shouted at the woman too. Give me—give my mother—the right amount. We won’t be fooled and shame on you! You should also go ahead and double bag our heavy items too because don’t you think the watermelon won’t break through? No, you didn’t. No, you didn’t. Don’t you see. Look in my eyes. He’s just a kid. I can count, lady.

We walked home with bags of cabbage heads and onion stalks standing out over the handles, bunched and cutting into our palms. The watermelon bulged low to the roadside like a dog’s balls. And she said how proud she was of me—of us—catching that woman in her act. That it’s because I look more like a Westerner, but we can never go back because they’ll remember us by her eyes, and us by our cheeks, fat and spotted. The dirt from the onion stalks left a patchwork on her pants from brushing at her knees, brown on white, and I agree. 

James A.H. White is an emerging writer completing his MFA in Poetry at Florida Atlantic University. He is a winner of the 2014 AWP Intro Journals Project award in Poetry and 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Gertrude, Tahoma Literary Review, Eunoia Review, and DIAGRAM, among others. His chapbook hiku [pull] is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press. You may find him on Twitter at @jamesahwhite.