Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Bitter Melon"

Based on an audience poll, this is the free epic for the April 2, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl reaching its $200 goal. It came out of the March 6, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] ravan asking for a square from my 2-28-19 Situations card for the Meet Ugly Bingo fest: "You were shopping and mistook me for someone who works in this store. I decide to mess with you instead of telling the truth." This poem belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Bitter Melon"

[Tuesday, November 4, 2014]

Shiv slunk through the aisles of
the Healthy Spirits Asian Market.

Cook and Luci had ganged up on him
and insisted that he needed to step outside
his comfort zone, so they sent him here with
instructions to pick up at least three things
good to put into a batch of stir-fry.

Everyone else in the store was
Asian and Shiv still didn't know
what half of this shit was.

As Simon would put it,
Shiv was as skittish as a cat
in a room full of rocking chairs.

The produce section wasn't bad,
though. It had bok choy in bags of two,
so he could split that between him and Luci,
and buy one case for Cook to try out.

There was gai lan with pencil-thin stems,
some kind of Chinese broccoli. Shiv bought
that on the hunch that it should taste familiar.

He was dithering over what to pick for
a third item when some Chinese lady
plonked herself in front of him.

"I've called you three times!"
she said. "Stop lollygagging
and help me right now."

"What?" Shiv said, startled.

"Don't pull that with me," she said.
"I want to make a special meal for
my boyfriend, and I need help
choosing produce. You wait on
me or I'll talk to your manager!"

His manager was over at Blues Moon.

Shiv wondered what the hell was
going on here. This chick wasn't
anything to him -- not even within
arm's reach of him and treating him
like the help instead of hot stuff --
but it still made him feel more
than a little nervous inside.

Then Shiv noticed that
his shirt was the same shade
of bright yellow as the staff here.

Apparently she hadn't noticed
that it said Peas & Love on the front
instead of Healthy Spirits Asian Market
on the back like the actual staff.

Shiv had put down his shopping basket
so that he could sort through the produce.

Equal parts annoyed and amused,
Shiv realized then that he could
royally fuck with her and just
walk away without a trace.

"Here," he said, handing her
a package of warty green things.
"Bitter melon is a classic Chinese food
and these are in great shape today."

Everything he said was true ...
it was just incomplete.

"Thank you," she said.
"That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"Nope," Shiv said, smirking.
Easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

He grabbed a package of bitter melon
for himself, snagged his basket on
the way past, and scrammed before
she could come after him again.

[Wednesday, November 5, 2014]

Chu Hua Huang flounced into
the Healthy Spirits Asian Market
and demanded to see the manager.

"What is going on in here?" she snapped.
"Yesterday one of your boys sold me
the most disgusting vegetable I ever
tasted. My boyfriend took one bite
and dumped the salad in the trash!"

"Which boy?" asked Ler Moo.

"Well, I didn't get his name,
but you can't miss him --
the short platinum blond
who loafs around," she said.

"So sorry for trouble, please,
but we don't hire anyone like that,"
the manager said, bowing low.
"Everyone work here are
Karen, Chinese, Thai ..."

"Well if he doesn't work here,
then who sold me that crap?"
Chu Hua said, hands on hips.

"No idea," Ler Moo said.
"Show me vegetable?"

Chu Hua pointed it out.

Ler Moo chuckled softly.
"Ah, bitter melon," he said.
"Take out seeds, then cook.
Fix like this." He handed her
a little booklet of recipes.

"I don't think my boyfriend
or I want to touch it again,"
Chu Hua said, grimacing.

"Try it right way -- no charge,"
Ler Moo said, giving her a package.
Then he waved at the produce section.
"Pick one thing more for apologize."

Chu Hua grabbed some carrots.
It would be hard to wreck those.

[Thursday, November 6, 2014]

Shiv was waiting tables at Blues Moon
when he heard a vaguely familiar voice.

He looked around and spotted
the Chinese lady he'd seen in
the Healthy Spirits Asian Market.

She was in his section, too, dammit.

Shiv couldn't just scram without a reason,
or he'd hear no end of it from Cook.

Trouble was, that lady was sure
to recognize him, and he also couldn't
pretend he didn't know her, because
he'd told that story all over the club.

She was sharing a table with
some handsome black guy, so
if she was on a date, maybe
that would keep a lid on it.

Hiking up his courage, he
went to their table and said,
"Welcome to Blues Moon,
how may I help you?"

"You!" the lady said.
"What were you thinking?!"

"That I work in a jazz joint,
not an Asian market," Shiv said.
"Everything's good here, though.
Would you like to place an order?"

The black man threw back his head
and laughed. "Damn, honey,
that boy got us good!"

For a minute there,
the Chinese lady still
looked pretty pissed.

Then she chuckled a bit.
"All right, you win," she said.
"Dare I ask what you recommend?
I know nothing about the food here."

"What do you like?" Shiv said,
all business on his home turf.

"Salads, light entrees --
Dereece swore that you
have things that aren't
too heavy," she said.

"We have a nice salad with
winter mix greens, radishes,
and rainbow carrots," Shiv said.
"Cooked greens, we got collards
today. Stuff off the grill is lighter
if you order it without sauce --
Cook does lemon pepper fish
and chicken and such."

"I'll have the salad and
lemon pepper fish," she said.
"What about desserts?"

"Uh ... chocolate sheet cake
or sweet potato pie," Shiv said.
"We got a baked apple with
maple sugar, though, and that
can be a side or a dessert."

"Baked apple works for me,"
she said, handing him her menu.

"And for you, sir?" Shiv said
as he turned to her partner.

"Cup of beans and rice
to start, then half a slab of
barbecue ribs, collards, and
that sweet potato pie," he said.

"Okay, that's all good to go but
the fish," Shiv said. "I'll bring
your starters, and the entrees
in ten to fifteen minutes."

He skittered back toward
the kitchen, but had to stop
in the hallway to rack the menus
and laugh where nobody could see.

Despite the horribly awkward setup,
it hadn't been a complete disaster after all.

Besides, she had a black boyfriend.
Maybe she wasn't a total pain in the ass.

Still grinning, Shiv stepped into the kitchen.

* * *


Chu Hua Huang -- She has golden-fair skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and straight brown hair cut to shoulder length. She is Chinese-American. She speaks English well and Chinese badly. Chu Hua lives in Omaha, Nebraska. She has a black boyfriend, Dereece, and she wants to introduce him to Chinese culture since he's introducing her to black culture. But she doesn't actually know all that much about it, because her parents are assimilationists.
Qualities: Good (+2) Girlfriend, Good (+2) Graceful, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Secretary
Poor (-2) Bossy

Ler Moo -- He has fair skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and short dark hair that is starting to go gray. He is highland Karen, practicing animist Buddhism. He speaks English and Sgaw. Born in Myanmar, Ler Moo fled persecution there and settled in America. He rarely talks about Myanmar even now. Taking advantage of a program to help refugees establish themselves, he launched the Healthy Spirits Asian Market in northwest Omaha, Nebraska.
Qualities: Good (+2) Animist Buddhist, Good (+2) Citizen, Good (+2) Interpersonal Intelligence, Good (+2) Shopkeeper, Good (+2) Survivor
Poor (-2) Myanmar Is Still a Sore Spot

The Karen people span a number of ethnic groups in the Kayin state of southern and southeastern Myanmar, where they are poorly tolerated. Many have therefore migrated to Thailand or beyond. The Sgaw-speaking Karen tend to be animist Buddhists. Karen use names and nicknames, but there are no first or last names.

* * *

This map shows the neighborhoods of Omaha, Nebraska.

Happy Spirits Asian Market is located on Fort Street in North Omaha. See the aisles and the produce section.

These are two of Shiv's t-shirts, Beetnik and Peas & Love. You can tell they're farmer's market finds because they're neither his favorite colors nor his typical sentiments. But he goes right for the bargain or free t-shirts.

Bitter melon is indeed a popular Chinese vegetable, but it is customarily cooked for use in salad or stir-fry. It is in season from June-November.

Bok choy: All parts of this “Chinese cabbage”—stalks, leaves, and young flowering shoots—are edible when young or mature. Many bok choy varieties have dark green leaves and firm white stalks that are crunchy and juicy with a cabbage-like taste. Baby bok choy is tender and delicious sautéed with garlic or added to soups.
Chinese broccoli: In contrast to the Italian broccoli found in most American markets, Chinese broccoli, or gai lan, has thin stems, small flower buds, and blue-green leaves. The crunchy stems, which are more tender and sweet than the Italian variety, are rich in calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C.
Bitter melon: Bitter melon looks like a cucumber with light green, warty, wrinkled skin. Its bitter taste is caused by quinine, which has medicinal qualities. Blanching or salting reduces the melon’s bitterness. Mature melons can be cooked unpeeled, but their seeds and pith should be removed. Bitter melon is often stuffed with meat or seafood, used in curries, or added to stir-fries
-- Guide to Asian Vegetables

In T-America you can get seasonal mixes of salad greens, not just "spring mix." You can build a better winter mix using hardy greens. The current salad at Blues Moon includes a dark green bed of Ironman Kale Mix, giant winter spinach, frisée, mâche, 'Winter Wonderland' romaine lettuce, and 'Royal Oakleaf' lettuce topped with rainbow carrots and Easter egg radishes. Rainbow carrots have diverse nutrients, and radishes come in many colors too.

This is the baked apple.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, food, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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