Home 9 Issue 9 Papaya Soap by Althea Aguel

Althea Aguel, age 16

I wrote this as a submission for Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate. It’s about Filipina American identity.

Papaya Soap

In the womb I was kissed by the sun
my skin’s fluctuating pigment measured
by how hard I had to squeeze beige crayons
for self portraits

The tempting papaya soap sits on the corner of the shower like a blind date on a park bench

So much potential and when it burns
I will be all the more enticing
A new chance for Snow White’s complexion
after hours of lacrosse

Wash me toward
pale skin
a model’s body
a nose like a Grecian sculpture
soft whispers that pass your ear like Gatsby’s lover

I stare and stare at the papaya soap and recall tacky blonde highlights done cheaply after realizing Photoshop could replace me and no one would notice

Bellies round from the carcasses of fauna
drenched in sodium sauces and spatula tosses

My throat is a tightrope
Do I lean toward the product of my surroundings
or a culture connected by blood, not spirit

I teased my father’s “eech” not “aych” in kindergarten as we repeated “H is for horse”
Then I burst out Taglish phrases within the comfort of four walls

My bones are strengthened by food with no traditional dishes
because I choose to refrain from meat
My crushes are confused what a Seafood City is
My feet have never touched the land of my ancestry

I am pulled and pushed
“I’m not completely fluent”
Pulled and pushed
“Happy AAPI Month!”
Pulled and pushed

How can I determine what parts to pick out and what parts to embrace
Am I a product of cultural conformity or was I meant to be the perfect daughter

I stare and stare at the papaya soap and bask in the warmth of the intruding sun

I am not either one
I cannot wash away who I am with a soak