Karen An-Hwei Lee | Poetry

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT
KOMBUCHA AND XENOPHOBIA

1. “Kombucha is one of those things I just haven’t acquired a taste for.”
2. “Kombucha is an Asian probiotic drink, sort of like kefir but not kefir.”
3. “Those of us who are photosensitive should use kombucha on a regular basis.”
4. “Drink a daily glass of kombucha instead of sweet tea, blue algae, or cola.”
5. “Is kombucha similar to zero-calorie water or rambutan agua fresca?”
6. “You look so young. Do you drink a lot of kombucha or is it the melanin?”
7. “A kombucha jar we bought last month is stuck in customs on a ship from China.”
8. “Do you know how to use a kombucha kit? Is it very expensive?”
9. “Is it true that it’s actually Chinese mushrooms?”
10. “Is it true that it’s a type of fungus?  Is it hallucinogenic?”
11. “I heard you can weave the kombucha starter into a cellulose dress.”
12. “Isn’t kombucha the same as a light-flavored ginger beer?”
13. “I prefer dark fermented beverages myself.”

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DEAR TOKUBETSU, OR THE OCTOPUS JAR
AS A BROKEN HEART

for Bharati Mukherjee, 1940-2017

An obituary for your professor with a dark flame of hair
whose dowry was stolen out of her hands in the big city,
whose marriage caused disownership by overseas family
who later reconciled, whose garage door crushed her wrist
for a jeweled bridge of screws holding the bones to heal,
who gently said, please, uttering her first name whenever  
you lapsed into the formal address by title and surname,
who spoke of your prose in the context of little hooks,
as though your tales were cockle burrs or jimson weed –
succumbed to a temporary heart condition, tokubetsu
myocardiopathy, broken-heart syndrome, a pocketing
in the left ventricle triggered by undue stress, emotional
or physical. Tokubetsu is Japanese for a clay octopus jar,
one shaped on a slant, opened to one side, adobe mouth
open to capture octopii. Once in, no exit.  Such is a figure
of the outpocketing sorrows of a long-suffering heart –  
one for the son who languished from a hereditary illness,
one for the son and the spouse still rooted to this world,
and countless readers whom she leaves to mourn.

Karen Ah-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo 2012), Ardor (Tupelo 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. She authored a novel, Sonata in K (Ellipsis 2017).  Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series. Lee’s work appears in literary journals such as The American Poet, Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, IMAGE: Art, Faith, Mystery, Journal of Feminist Studies & Religion, Iowa Review, and Columbia Poetry Review and was recognized by the Prairie Schooner / Glenna Luschei Award.  She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, Lee is a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle. Currently, she lives in San Diego.

2018-12-10T19:27:01+00:00