23andme

April 19, 2018

 

Note: This poem was originally published in Indiana Review Online

Broadly. This is what the report says of me. It says my maternal ancestor came from East Africa, as we all do, over 180,000 years ago. She lay herself at the feet of the Indus River and made her way to that region called home.

 

Conjecture. <0.1%, a small speck on the edge of the diagram, East Asia.

Attributing culture to an inherent physicality, an invented way to subvert nurture. Or improper, inappropriate nurturing: sitting on the countertop with my mother yi qi bao jiao zi, sweet soft summer sounds of Sade and the Supremes spilling in the smoke.

 

Lineage, walking backward. This is the reverse. February, the taste of nian gao sticky on my lips, hot plates boiling water for tang yuan. The strands are fine.

 

Sometimes all I can think is that I want to go home.

 

Can you absorb the swirling sound of centrifuge as it tells me where I come from? I smell rice and beans and burning-black bluestack humming with the sheng yins, loud music and children shouting. They told me this is not my ‘hood. She sings.

 

The creator of my maternal haplogroup. I am vaguely grateful that I am no theoretical vessel for British blood.

 

Why I can’t eat cheesecake is simple. It has an underbelly, hidden things, revealed when considered the right moment. Graham crackers are tasteless in this case, the enforcer. I wanted something to belong to me.

 

Baking regularly, brownies cupcakes banana breads olive oil cakes. I learned to cook pasta at 7 and saute tomatoes properly at 8. No question of genetics early on.

 

For New Year’s, I cooked the works from scratch. My mother always forgot to dip her fingers in water before. This is the slight recursion, performance of cultural fitness. It was February.

 

Currently more than 200 genetic relatives in the continental United States. It is the lacking that hurts. I eat cheesecake at most meals, lose my color quickly.

 

My father plays Carnatic music when it is late and he is thinking of his dead mother. “Do you feel anything when you hear it?” “No.”

 

Nina sings, I think of a family. Play the song again and again until I am drowning in the contours of her voice, count my fingers, pretend I am little girl blue.

 

Main report. You are 99.9% South Asian. I imagine Asia as an envelope, sealed sticky with my saliva. The content is tricky, but I like the way it looks on me, finally.

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