Exhaust

CAS for Database

Minha Choi

Daejeon, South Korea

Taejon Christian International School

Poetry

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 

EDITORIAL PRAISE

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