Stinky Feet, Yellow Teeth

by Onyew Kim


 Let’s play a game, my mother used to say.  Hold on to my arm while I spin around until   you fly off. The world seemed so splendid in her orbit. My tiny arms clinging tight as she spun faster  and faster, my world growing larger. I remember  my mother in fragments. A hymn slipping from her   lips reaching me from somewhere beyond the tall dark  hallway, beckoning my little legs to stomp towards   the sound into our bathroom. Strands of black hair,  chipped peach-colored toenails against the blue tile floor,   maybe her left breast, her hands as she ignites the flame  over the stove. The oil makes a static sound as the tops   of the scallion pancake bubble, edges curl so crisp I  can already feel the crunch between my teeth.  She wants me to make a sound. A grunt, a sigh, an exclamation, or mmmm. She wants to know that   it is good, always. And it is. I remember being  small in her arms, warmth like the fire before it burns   born where our bodies touch. Her yellow teeth and her  bottom lip heavy, when she smiles. Eyes as soft as the  excess skin on the backs of her arms. When she sleeps,  she becomes a mystery I can’t look away from, watching  her chest rise and fall, mouth open as if she’s about to speak. Upon waking her, she grabs my foot in one hand and brings  it to her nose to make a face, conjuring my laugh so she can  laugh with me. My laughter is shrill from the throat, but   she laughs deeply from her stomach, quietly somehow. I remember asking her once, mom, mom, mom,   are you a girl or are you a woman? Girl she says, eyes lit, fixed on mine.   The water runs over the dishes and I see her.  Girl. 	Girl. 	Girl.	Girl. 	Girl. 	Girl.  like bells ringing in the distance with no intention to stop


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