Lyz Soto

Rice Wine and Mungo Bean

Part of my heritage smells like meat
blood spilling on concrete, fish
in ice chilling fermenting
with chili peppers and soy bean paste.

Tastes like yesterday
grown from seeds
sown in lands so far away
I can’t ever go back.

Even if I jump
on a plane
and catch wind
with a metal spin
I can’t go there,
because they are
merged with time
and distance,

but I can smell this history
in small streets and markets
with pig heads hanging on hooks
duck and chicken carcasses stacked
in boxes by screen doors
where on the inside there is a fire
burning so high it scars
the ceilings for black tongues tamed
only by hunger.

And beside the body boxes
find a bleach bucket
sitting by a tree
where at least three guys
peed last night
-mixing into a cacophony
of perfumes swirling
through conduits and memory
gateways, so when I go down to these streets
it’s like a time walk
smelling sweet
like dreams
even when the overriding scent is piss
and the ammonia bites so hard it burns,

so when I walk with my son
for treats
He tells me mommy
it smells really
really bad with his fingers laced in my hand
he demands we run
as fast as we can in a street crowded
by flavors.

That’s when I say, “This is part of your heritage.”
Even if it is three quarters removed
by blood, it is still in there.

And I cannot give it to him
in tongues, because that part
was lost three generations ago
when a great great grandfather
looked on speaking Cantonese
like spreading a disease to his children.

And a great grandfather
looked at tagalog
with the same goodbye eye,
like his mother tongue
was prophylactic
preventing anyone like him
from finding acceptance
from this America
he lived in.

But my boy has got blond hair
framing his face with skin
three shades lighter than mine
and a grandfather

who loves him so much
he would carry the weight
of the entire
race for him.

Even if when my father
looks at my son
he sees nothing of himself,
like maybe our blood
has turned
another color
weighed down
by genetic choices
slipped in when he
wasn’t looking

by a daughter determined
to globe trot to an old country
where his ancestor
never walked or danced, divided
by ocean swells and land masses,
because my comfort languages
lie in pale spaces and white skins,
while my comfort tastes
live in corner shops
and holes in walls
with soup broth and sand pots
with flash fried vegetables
and fermented fish sauce

and in this world
that actually matters,
because if in trying to appease
others I honor a single legacy
living in my skin
I risk dishonoring another

like my mother
within her cellular structure
stretching fire fingers in different directions
crossing Celtic channels and romantic
linguistic connections—She
keeps carrying me precious.

I am her best wishes born and aborted.

And the father of my first born
was a fair man from water worn
lands overflowing with a northern sea

so my son wears white
overwhelming Pacific rims
but his veins are an illustrated map
of the discovered world

so we can traverse the travels
taken by humans for the last
200,000 generations
with lines linking through blood
connection all the way back
to the first conception
when australopithecine became
men walking straight
through the motherland

so they could better carry the constellations
in their two hands. We
are inheritors of this tradition. We
are sapiens seeking wisdom, which makes each
and every one of us Atlas shouldering
the world’s weight for the masses
even if when I look at you

I don’t see my mother, brother, father
daughter, sister, or son.
And when you look at my son and me
you might not see yourself.

You might not see hakka or pinoy
or any other racial profile pigeonhole
you predict. We defy expectations.

But part of our heritage
smells like rice wine
and mungo bean
apple pie
and hot chocolate
—tastes like burritos, burgers, and hot dogs,
ginger and vinegar, soy sauce—sour
—sounds like lion dance drums beating
low cello wailing
tinikling bamboo clacking
clapping just as we step out
of these ethnic barriers
into a whole world of unexpected
beyond the confines defined by skin
and other people’s perceptions.

I will honor the entire history
I have inherited
because this is the ancestry
I have been blessed with and my son
is the next step on this ladder leading
towards heaven, so this is where
we are starting again
with one step closer to infinity’s end
and in this double helix knot
of what ifs
and what whens
the completion of our bodies
and our souls begins.

detail of Diasporic Waters - Joy Enomoto - 2014
Baninnur: A Basket of Food

Lyz Soto is a poet of Tagalog, Ilocano, Hakka, German, English, Irish, French, Cherokee, Scottish, and Spanish descent. She is cofounder of Pacific Tongues and mentor with its award-winning program, Youth Speaks Hawaiʻi. Lyz is working toward a PhD in English at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She has performed in Hawaiʻi, Aotearoa, and the continental United States. Her chapbook, Eulogies, was published in 2010 by TinFish Press.