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Panda Express
by Meg Eden

The boys from Bowie order Orange Chicken and laugh at me.

Why’s a white girl working at a Chinese restaurant? they ask.

I answer, Free sample?

My Vietnamese friend told me, You are white on the outside but Asian at heart. She took her banana leaf rice cake and gave me half. This was our weekly communion.

When my shift ends, I take the chicken that has been sitting in the glass display, unfit for customers. If I don’t take it, another will throw it away. The meat’s tough and sweet in my mouth.

When I sweep the floors, my boss laughs. He says, Have you ever held a broom? He means: spoiled white girl. I’ve cleaned my father’s workshop, built our back patio with bricks and a pile of sand. But I know that all he sees are my soft hands.

He asks if I know Chinese, and I say, I love you.

He says, Say it again.

I love you, I echo. Wo ai ni. A phrase I learned from pop songs.

He tells me I sound like his daughter, a girl who is many oceans away, and teaches me how to write:

A heart behind two doors is agony;
a mouth behind two doors is a problem.
After twenty gates is an opening,
a window of unsealed happiness.

SOURCE: Previously published in Little Patuxent Review.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, senior year with my Okinawan sanshin.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Meg Eden‘s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, RHINO, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming June 2017 from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Find her online at megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.