You can’t say ‘Oriental’

Runner Up: 2022 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


because it’s offensive.” My blue-eyed friend

sneers, smiles at superiority in knowledge,

fairness, and freckles. My mother says

her hair is mousy.


My mother is not a rug. She has used

this word for forty years, feels its reclaimed

East-Asian kinship. This word is hers; it is

mine. She taught me to


I.     “find/establish/feel one’s bearings/location/way, get the lie of the land”

as other, as not-them, unbelong

at the lunchbox cracked open.

Fourth-grade culture-day potluck

leaves yakitori untouched. I throw

it out of blue tupperware into the bushes;

local wildlife doesn’t discriminate, and relay

its evaporation with delight “they loved it.”


II.     “adapt, accommodate, acclimatize, attune”

I learn to accommodate questions until

I’m thirty. I acclimatize to exotic. Attune

to scrutiny. I do mind you asking; I do

not exist to satiate curiosity. This unease

others you; I sniff it in like sweet gasoline.

I will respond with fire. Like her, I am crowned

with midnight river hair so long it tucks into our jeans.

We belong everywhere.


III.     “aim, steer, design, intend”

towards mysterious as a hand I hold

to chest. Or a ship adrift, I outmaneuver

and drop into the conversation my Auntie,

the camps, Godzilla, what’s of my people.

Use chopsticks for popcorn, cheese crackers,

anything oily. Scoff at weight-control advice:

“they’ll help you eat slower!” unless you’ve

always used them. She still keeps

my pink plastic baby ones with birds,

little finger loops for a toddler.


IV.     “align, place, position, set”

My mother as direction, I fix my sight

where the sun rises, eastward. She

warms me face-first.

Alison Lubar (they/she) teaches high school English by day and yoga by night. They are a queer, nonbinary femme of color whose life work (aside from wordsmithing) has evolved into bringing mindfulness practices, and sometimes even poetry, to young people. Most recently, their work has been published by or is forthcoming with Moonstone Press, New York Quarterly, and Sinister Wisdom; you can find most published work at and heavily-edited selfies at @theoriginalison on IG.