Pen and gouache on paper

On my walk back home after work one summer day, three teenagers verbally attacked me based on my appearance. This incident led me to create this work on paper and write the poem below.


A poem by Haruka Aoki

Sweat prickles my back like the marching of ants.
A corner of the New York Historical Society pokes out from the trees.
Only thirty steps until I make it out of Central Park;
a hot, satisfying walk after sitting in my midtown office icebox.

Behind me, my ears sense something like muffled Chinese.
But this is nothing close to beautiful Mandarin or Yue.
A little louder. Louder.
“Ching chong chang!”

Pausing, I twist my neck to the right and see three teenagers behind me.
For a moment, I want to laugh with them.
They look like my friends—they must be good people.

More laughter.
“Ching ching chong!”

At first a haze of confusion,
Then heaviness fills my chest:
Are they laughing at me?
“Ni hao, Jackie Chan!”
The gradual blossoming of rage: How could they laugh at me?!
But petals seem to stuff my mouth and ears.
Frustration blurs my vision.

I meet their laughing eyes.
I force words out of my mouth, “Do you have a problem with me?”
The faces of two girls stiffen, punctured by my directness.
But the boy, the one nearest to me, replies defiantly:
“Chong chong chang!”
And all their faces melt back into a lukewarm pile of mockery.

As if watching myself from afar:
A woman holds her fleshy tender heart between cupped hands.
Three teenagers surround her,
flicking small plastic lighters at the mass of pink muscle.
There will be permanent burn marks.
She cannot move.