Daejeon, South Korea
Taejon Christian International School
I am exhausted from the
race. each lap spews out murky oil
and I gulp it down in gallons,
afraid my mom might get a whiff. You see
this course is built of deception—porcelain smiles that fracture
into filial ruins, scarlet red that peels off the veneer and stains
the asphalt. in her broken tongue she says ddal—(Korean, “daughter”, “girl”)—
make your bloodline proud. when her voice booms into the megaphone
“be smarter, work harder, be thinner, go faster”: we both taste the undertones
of ripen yourself, so you can marry a citizen, like
some tragicomedic fantasy we all share as immigrant women.
Broken yellow daughter, for in my dreams I picnic with girls.
Yet in this chassis of a Civic, thousand-mile racing I’m
erasing the yellow off my skin, the sin off my lips. in this race
and religion and blood, I am illegal. an alien. anxiety, love, self-
loathing, and burnout are outlawed on this highway. You see
we do not talk of invisible demons or loving
girls in my household, or the visceral fear of being chased by predatory Time
go study fix your hair smile you’re dressed like a boy be polite, ddal—
motion fueled by incessant worry of losing momentum, that if I break, I’ll
stop forever. On autopilot, I’m wrenched on by the salty
yellow dripping from my veins and choked by chalk that engulfs me.
I tried once but my mother would rather listen to preachers
drowning out my shrieks with prayer. So only within soundproof glass
do I cram in the noxious sludge. pumping far above my limit, retching
Heartburn, heartache, how I wish collision would occur.
I offer Christ my wheel offhandedly. I think I hear
Him chuckle under the relentless roar of man
-made motors, the sinner at the mercy of the God
she’s forsaken. So now my heart tears—briefly. all
sinewy. like that doe my father skidded over once,
on our Busan trip, back when we still had destinations to our
car rides and I could stand to breathe my native land’s
acrid oxygen. In that soil, defects are expunged with machinery.
Embedded with ghosts—girls I lay with, and that doe
in the mirror. I gasp for the airbag
& decide I don’t deserve it. So I clench my eyes. Blinking, burning out & in
my dreams I slam the entire weight of my leaden
bones down on the brakes. In my dreams the doe is alive, not
bursting apart into ravaged lumps of carcass
no gales of scathing dirt tearing at its long lashes. Here,
the race has stopped, and exhaust fumes combust as I vomit
out ten years’ worth of shuddering gasoline—
Umma, I don’t long for the sky & I won’t
become a white man’s porcelain
ddal & the closest I’ve felt to heaven is with a girl.
– But even in this dream I keep my tail lights on.
I imagine my light-waste tainting the starglow of my
lineage, my siren-sobs that pollute my mother’s hymns.
I think, and I decide they are my roars: sputtering, defying the
holy sun with 13-volt lux of my own
and maybe a faint wish
that she might look for me when my engine fails.
This piece was previously published in "finger commas toes" (for National Flash Fiction Day Youth Competition), July 2020
Emotionally charged, impactful, and in-your-face passionate, "Exhaust" interweaves family, race, and identity together in one sprawling, powerful poem. Readers will find themselves simultaneously devastated and enthralled by a piece that strikes with zeal and a plead to have its message heard.
Minha Choi is a 17-year-old writer from Daejeon, South Korea. She currently attends an international school, working as the editor-in-chief of Ampersand Magazine. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, NCTE, National Flash Fiction Youth, among others.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR