AP Chinese Language and Culture: Free Response Spoken
You will have a conversation with your mother, sitting in between hot-white slats of ladled sunlight, about coming-of-age.
Interpersonal Speaking, Prompt 1: [... You’re leaving for college soon. Will you stay in California? How do you like California? How do you like the life, half-throbbing & half-over that I dug out of my girl-woman-abdomen to give you? … ]
I like, the heat like another layer, like to my skin: like not
in the like, air around me but like an intimate organ stuck,
sizzling and like, half-molted. chain-link fences like, spearing open
the ripe like, underbelly of a sky that apologizes like, my mother– I said
like, Sacramento summer like a form of love-bombing, like, shimmering asphalt
& scorching affections. like, mosquito bites mottled plum-purple like bruises.
like, tiger’s balm searing red-hot like week-old blisters. like, our hands
swelling with like, brine-sour sweat or late August tears. like,
how painful is it anyways, in the lens-flare, like, blaze of your love?
Interpersonal Speaking, Prompt 2: [... When did you decide to flee? How have you decided to vacate the empty static corners of this town, gravel-worn roads & fields of calloused fingers? How did I leave you, clutching and toneless, in the year of your departure? …]
That winter, the headlights across the crosswalk pulsed like a midwife’s heartbeat,
slow and steady. She’s crazy, my mother said, fuming in tandem
with the smoke billowing from our 2004 Honda Accord fuel pipe. What a bitch,
I said, What a bitch. My mother laughed; a trembling helpless sound, a shotgun wedding
to a country that will never know her body as a newborn thing. Gasoline-slick maroon
smear of lipstick across my mouth. The chapped trapped cracked visages of my mother’s
lips. Smoking trails of bitter gunpowder down both our guts, but the bullet caught between
her teeth. How the viewer could define our roles only by the driver & the driven, the
chaser & the chased. The throes of a language a daughter forgets
is a fumbled form of violence. That weekend before September scraped
the goldenberry out of oak trees, the elasticity out of blacktops,
devoured them with her crooked gaping maw, I rediscovered language
as you languished on our peeling couch, exhausted from a
Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-You Know The Drill By Now!
of grading papers. Baby, you said. Baby I’m so tired. Try translating. For
your dear old ailing Mother. Syllables shaved their way from behind my teeth–
I couldn’t recall the Mandarin for waning. For taxidermy. For migration.
For poetry. I chased my exuviated tongue across the humid twilight like the most
jilted kind of lover. It was October before I caught up & when I wrung her back into
my mouth, she still tasted like smoke & saltpeter. We sat here, in the same
exact spot. Do you remember? Do you even understand what I am saying?
Behind us, car horns spit up muffled replicas of English. What a bitch,
my mother breathes, enunciating every syllable. What a bitch.
Interpersonal Speaking, Prompt 4: [... You’ve grown so old. God, look at you. I remember when you could’ve fit into the curvature of my palm. The hollows of my gums. God, I could’ve just eaten you up. (shuffling, a choked-off laugh) Please, did I fail you as a mother? … ]
The first sound I let out; a teethless shout
of my mother’s mucus & amniotic sac. Not
a mermaid birth but a mottled one. Ma, I wanted
nothing more than your bones your hair your skin
your love. For years afterward, I would rest my
downy head on your blue-veined belly & reimagine
a perfect labor. Like I could sustain my life with
just your ragged breathing. Ma, I blinked newborn eyelids
& knew I would define every next home I lived in
by your womb.
Interpersonal Speaking, Prompt 3: [...] The audio is experiencing a malfunction. The audio is experiencing a malfunction. The audio is experiencing a malfunction. [… ]
At sixteen, I’ve written about California & boys with knives & November as a lover
but my mother raised me limning the word of God onto her tongue
knowing that she didn’t believe in Him. Mother, know that I’m writing about you.
Mother, know that you who taught me the language of blasphemy taught me
the syntax of metaphors. A prayer a promise. A sacrifice a sanity. A birth so pure
the doctor couldn’t even hear the first wail.
Thank you for your time.
Editors: Uzayer M., Luna Y.
Photo Credits: Dadu Shin