“Recipe for Boys Named Stanford, Duke, and Berkeley” by Dorothy Chan
I like boys who are named after prestigious schools: Stanford, Duke, Berkeley, or maybe even Yale, if your parents are super explicit about your dreams, and let’s go bulldog, bulldog, bulldog—I think back to three-year-old me wearing a UCLA t-shirt, gazing into a mirror in my family’s Hong Kong penthouse, from my father’s hard-earned-self-made-salt-of-the-earth money, it’s 1993, and I hear my older brother crying to my father, in the other room, over his poor grades, and before you know it, it’s one year later, and we’re on a plane to America, and my brother finishes high school in Pennsylvania, because doctors and engineers aren’t made from poor grades, and my father gave it all up: the home with a view in Kowloon, the car, the job— my mother’s happiness—all for my brother to have a future, and I like boys who are named after prestigious schools: Stanford, Duke, Berkeley, and you know it, Yale, because when you’re a child of Chinese parents who moved to America for you, it’s Ivy League or else, and I think of my father who grew up eating soy sauce on days old rice, looking out the window: Hong Kong in the '50s, his game of watching the cars drive past and writing down their license plates, adding them up, and when I’m five, I start spending my summers learning advanced math when my father’s at work, my mother’s at home teaching me instead of going to the pool, and back in Hong Kong in the '50s, my father looks out the window and his pet goose arrives, and in PA in the '90s, my parents and I spend Saturdays at the park feeding the ducks, then going home to my mother’s turnip cakes as an afternoon snack: my brother prefers them boiled and I prefer them fried, Hong Kong dim sum style: sauté your preserved meat, black mushroom, and half of your dried shrimps with two tablespoons of oil. Skin turnips, wash, and shred. Add a cup of water to cook for twenty minutes as turnips tender. Mix cornflour and rice flour with three cups of water (including water where the turnips were cooked). Mix turnip, seasoning, preserved meat, black mushroom, dried shrimps, rice flour and cornflour. Keep stirring while cooking until the mixture turns into a paste. Pour paste into a greased bowl and smooth the surface. Sprinkle with dried shrimps and steam for an hour. Add parsley and spring onion and steam for another two minutes. Slice when cool and serve. Enjoy. And how I enjoyed those Saturdays of sitting in boats at the park, ducks swimming after us, after our bread, my mother and father talking in Cantonese, reminiscing on times when neither one of them could boil water, reminiscing on the time they first moved to America, thinking peanut butter and jelly was some gourmet dish, and I like boys who are named after prestigious schools: Stanford, Duke, Berkeley, and of course, Yale, because my father still has those photos of toddler me in Hong Kong, wearing my UCLA t-shirt in our Kowloon penthouse, drawing and stamping on the walls, throwing plastic toys against the window, and I always wonder what would have been if we had never left: the missed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and trips to the park and the taste of Hong Kong in a turnip cake in PA.
Bio: Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinese Girl Strikes Back (Spork Press, forthcoming 2021), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She is a two-time Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship finalist, a 2020 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Poetry for Revenge of the Asian Woman, and a 2019 recipient of the Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing from Cornell University. Her work has appeared in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere. Chan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Poetry Editor of Hobart, Book Review Co-Editor of Pleiades, and Founding Editor and Editor in Chief of Honey Literary. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com